Since coming on the job seven years ago, I would like to think that I have changed in several ways. One, I know that I have realized the importance of physical fitness and how much of an impact it can have on my ability to perform on the job. I would also like to think that I have expanded my knowledge base for this career that requires a state of constant learning. As the days click by, I have also realized the importance of a positive interaction with children and the community.
Let’s face it; when citizens in your community have interactions with you on emergency calls…they are having one of the worst days of their life. If it is a loved one suffering a medical emergency, if they have just totaled their vehicle, or if their home has been damaged by fire. This is the majority of the time that you meet the citizens in your response area, and they are very thankful for people like us that come to help.
I don’t think that every department takes full advantage of being involved in their community outside of these instances. Of course, only so many hours in the day and emergency calls will always take priority over any other assignment that may be on the daily schedule. A few months back, I had the opportunity to visit Cpt. Wines (IronFiremen.com) while he was on shift in Roanoke, VA. Before we had dinner, there was a Pub Ed that was scheduled at a local center, and I decided to tag along.
Prior to leaving the station, they loaded up coloring books, plastic fire helmets, and sticker badges for all the kids that were supposed to be at this event. While I have done my fair share of pub ed’s since being on the job, this was the first time that I was able to see how a department several hours away plans for these events.
Each department has their own way of giving these demonstrations for the kids. My department has a full-time Public Education Officer that gives tours at Fire Station 1 for thousands of kids each year. They give the kids a puppet show about fire safety (that the rookies take care of), try on kids turnout gear, use the 911 simulator, and we even have a robot Sparky the Fire Dog that talks with them and sprays water.
The interactions I have come to realize that are just as important for the majority of firefighters are those out in public and the occasional tour that we have the opportunity to give at the substations. These are the spare of the moment tours that the parents swing by the fire station because their kid is fascinated with the fire engine, or the family passing through the area and looking for directions.
After seeing the crew from Roanoke pull a preconnect and letting the kids flow a little bit of water that day, I made a promise to myself that I would try my best to make the most out of each interaction that I have with children while on the job. This sometimes is as simple as waving to a child in the car next to us at a stop light or speaking to a family in line at the grocery store. In a post on FireCritic.com a few years ago in an article titled Owning the Job, Lt. Fleitz writes about the interactions here:
One thing that I never miss is the opportunity to reciprocate a wave from a young child, or make sure I wave if they are looking but not actually waving. That will typically get a smile on the child’s face and a wave in return.
That small gesture, which only takes a couple of seconds is very powerful. How powerful you might ask? Hell I don’t know, I am a firefighter not a statistician. I do know that a simple wave can make a profound impact on that child even if it is for a short moment in their life.
After returning from Roanoke, I had a discussion with my crew about how we typically speak to a group of children, tell them several things about the job/apparatus that they probably don’t understand, let them sit in the fire truck, maybe take a picture, and then we are on our way. Since that day, we have made sure to take a few extra minutes to pull a preconnect, let the kids flow water, and even pass out a few station patches. The impact that we have had is PRICELESS!
We now have several children that live in our area that come and visit on a regular basis. These interactions with the children and parents have made the job much more enjoyable. With my department rotating personnel stations annually, I will always make it a point to get to know the citizens that live in my district. Take pride in the fact that you protect the citizens of your area, and take every chance possible to get to know them. At the end of the day, you will realize that you have made a positive impact on that child…and he will never forget that.