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How Do You Measure a Successful Firefighting Career?


There is a lot of emphasis these days put on measuring the significance of life these days.  The importance of your life is measured as what you do with the dash between your birth and death on your tombstone.

When it’s time to retire from the fire service you will get a pretty plaque of some sort which will have your start date and end date. Just like the measure of your life, the significance of your career is measured by the dash between your starting date and your retirement date.  When it’s time to look back at your career what will you find in that dash? 

Everyone will have their own way of measuring how well they did:  

  • Some it will be how far they were promoted.
  • Others will measure it by how much money they made. 
  • Some will measure significance by how many fires they put out.

These are all arguably good measures but here are a few more that might be what really make a difference.  

The simplest way to see how important you were to your department is to ask yourself “Would the department miss me if I was gone?”  Take a look around and answer that for a bunch of people you work with.  That guy that always helps, that guy that will trade that day off because it’s your son’s birthday, and that guy that always gives you honest advice are the ones you will miss when they are gone. 

Those guys that sit in the corner and keep to themselves, don’t have an opinion unless they are complaining, and that guy that never has any positive input are the ones you surely won’t miss. 

Will anyone miss you when you are gone?

There are a lot of ways for firefighters to contribute to their department.  There are committees, projects and all kinds of areas where you can help.  There are some people that get involved in these things with the intention of being promoted.  I’m not saying these things won’t help get you promoted, because in a lot of instances they will. The ones that get involved because they care and aren’t looking for any pay back are the ones that can fill that dash with some real significance.

No matter what your rank with your department you are going to be involved in some situations where you will need to make some tough decisions.  It may be a co-worker that has a drug or alcohol problem, a firefighter that decides to take a little money from the station kitty, or it could be something much more serious. 

Too many firefighters don’t want to be the bad guy, and don’t want the consequences that go with making the tough decision to stop the bad behavior.  The consequences of not making the right decision in those situations is far worse. You never need to worry about the consequences if you make the right decision for the right reason.

There are way too many firefighters who just exist for 30 years and then retire. They do the job with no passion, no real contribution, and they are remembered only because there is a name on the wall or list of pensioners.  When it’s your turn to retire can you look back and fill your dash with some real importance? 

Will you be the one the firefighters remember as doing things the right way?  If you aren’t on the right track it’s time to make some changes.  Don’t be the one to look back and regret not taking some action when all you need to do is make a couple simple changes. 

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