Professionalism means acting appropriately and in a manner that is acceptable and careful. Applied to the fire service, a professional is not whether or not you are paid or volunteer. That is a topic that often brings out the most heated of discussions, but there is a division nationwide between volunteers and career firefighters.
I recently had a conversation with a brother from Texas about volunteer and career firefighters, and the separation of the two. Having started in the fire service as a volunteer at age 16, I may have a different outlook on the situation than most. I believe that the situation would be more realistic to look at as professional vs unprofessional, rather than volunteer vs career firefighters. The volunteer department that I first joined was in my hometown where I was born and raised. Throughout my years there I responded on calls that involved my own family, my friends, and my friends family. Growing up in a small town means that you pretty much know everyone, and responding to calls on the residents that you know personally can make things very difficult. If it were not for my volunteer department, I would not be working for a municipal career department today. They were able to provide me with experience, training, and the friendships that got me to where I am today.
There are many aspects of the fire service that can make you a professional. The way you present yourselves to the public, the knowledge that you retain from your training, and how you carry yourself in a heated situation are just a few that come to mind. I am still a member of my volunteer department, and even though I have to drive an hour to pull duty…I still seem to find time.
Within my busy schedule, I do find it difficult to stay proficient with the new equipment, in close touch with my fellow firefighters, and up to date on my streets. I would also venture to say that my volunteer department is one of the most professionally operated organizations in the area.
Quite possibly I look at things differently due to the fact that on the 28th of this month, I have been working full-time in the fire service for 5 years. While that’s not very long, I believe that I have grown as an employee and as a firefighter in the last five years. I am always taking on new responsibilities, and I never seem to be able to become “less involved.” I enjoy talking, writing, and learning about the job on a daily basis. My friends and family know how dedicated I am to my career, and I hope that in the future I am able to look back on the small difference that I may have been able to make. I try to represent the fire service in a positive way while I’m on the rig and when I’m off the job.
A lifestyle is what the fire service has become. It is included in almost every aspect of my life, and I like it that way. The way we carry ourselves in public reflects back on our volunteer organization and employer. As individuals, we sometimes need to just think things through to be sure that we are carrying ourselves in a professional manor. It may be something as small as zipping up our duty boots or tucking in our shirts. Over the years, I believe that this separation between volunteer and career has been created. My view point on the situation may be completely different from yours, and I respect everyone’s personal view on it. The bottom line is that whether I am at my volunteer department or on shift, the fires aren’t any hotter, the patients aren’t more critical, and one is no better than the other. It is up to each of us as individuals to work together in presenting a professional appearance for all and to assist in eliminating the division of the two.