I have been a firefighter for over ten years. I love my job. I love helping people in their time of need. And even though I may not love all the choices people make, I still have a love for people in general. People are amazing.
I wasn't one of those kids who knew he wanted to be a firefighter since he was little. For me, the fire wasn't lit until my senior year in high school. I had an option to graduate a semester early or finish out the year with only a half day schedule. So, not really knowing what I wanted to do for a career path, I decided to look into a trade. I'd learned of a fire science program that the local vocational school sponsored and it peaked my interest. Mainly because the words "fire" and "science" were in the title. I knew I liked helping people, serving others. I'd been a part of numerous volunteer organizations during the whole of my youth. I figured, if I could get paid to serve other people (in a career, not over a food counter), I would be happy for the rest of my life.
From day one I was hooked. I couldn't get enough. The science of it all! The tools, the trucks, the technology! I had started the two year program and within the week I'd asked the instructor if I could do BOTH year's curriculum in one since I would be graduating by the end of the year. He gave me the approval and I was off like a bullet.
Time went on, I completed my stint at the East Valley Institute of Technology and swiftly made my way to the local community college where I completed my Associate's degree in Fire Science Technology while at the same time, earning my EMT certification. I was 18 and I had tested and tested for fire departments to no avail. In the meantime I took jobs to pay the bills, but nothing deterred me from my ultimate goal. I transferred to Arizona State University where I completed my Bachelor of Applied Science in Fire Service Administration in 2004. It wasn't for another year that I would be hired as a full-time firefighter/EMT.
I will never forget that phone call. It was the best phone call I'd ever gotten. I was dedicated, loyal to the organization that believed in me. I wouldn't let them down. I showed up and spent most of my time making sure that everything I touched was in better shape than when I found it. I wanted to fix things. I'm a natural "fixer". I wanted to make sure people knew they could count on me, trust me. It was so important to me to be a trustworthy and contributing part of a crew where life and death could be moments away. It wasn't difficult to show up excited and ready to work!
Now, remembering that feeling and excitement helps me get through the times that I feel less than charitable. Doing this job for any amount of time opens you up to experiences; some light, some dark. As the years have gone by, I felt the sense of brotherhood that I had been told about just wasn't there. The dedication that I assumed everyone who wore the uniform had, wasn't there. Neither was the dedication to themselves when it came to their health or their aspirations. The golden nuggets of leadership and awesomeness weren't where I had expected them to be. I wasn't disappointed in the job, I was getting disappointed in the lack of integrity and leadership of the people who just weren't wholeheartedly invested.
I trudged through the years, nurturing the idea of being the type of firefighter I'd hope would show up to MY house if I needed him to. I went from truck to truck in an organization that desperately needed leadership. When asked, "what does this organization need?" In unison, the members would yell, "LEADERSHIP!" The sad thing was, no one wanted to step up and lead. In my short stint of 7 years I had seen four different fire chiefs, and one of those chiefs was an empty chair! I felt lost within my organization who was itself lost. I felt stifled in my efforts to answer the call, to be the leader that people said they wanted.
Then I decided...no more! I don't have to be in a position of "ranked leadership" in order to be a leader in my organization! Leaders are found on all levels and in every corner of any organization. People just have to be willing to look! Around year 8 I decided that I was going to do everything I could to better myself and improve my skill set and add knowledge to my wheelhouse. I set out on a quest. Almost like walking the path to Mordor, the road is long and treacherous. I was surprised mostly by the naysayers that wore the same uniform that I did. Brothers in arms aren't supposed to act like that! Then the thought hit me, "these guys aren't supermen, they're just men." Taking them off the pedestal I had put them on, I learned that I could serve them much more effectively.
I dove into classes; leadership, continuing education (paramedic), health and wellness, leadership, cardiology, cutting edge medicine, social media, public health studies, oh, and did I mention leadership? The idea of leadership in the fire service, built on tradition and stubborn old men, was the biggest challenge I could think to understand. It's really quite incredible. Through multiple seminars, classes and conferences I was fortunate enough to meet some of the biggest names in the biz; Chief Alan Brunacini, Gordon Graham, and Captain Mark VonAppen (#FullyInvolved). I couldn't help but become inspired. Which brings me to where I am now...
I have started this blog (IGNITEd) as a way to share the things that I have learned, the things that have "ignited" the spirit inside me. I want to help those in need. Brothers. Sisters. Recruits. I want to provide those things that I never had coming into the fire service; kind advice and guidance. Open dialogue, learning new things and gaining perspective are what I am a fan of. I will be posting my thoughts and things I've learned from people around the country/world, stories of firefighting and how it had affected me (& others), tips on health and wellness, and stories on leadership that inspire me.
So please, if you feel like what I have to say lights a fire in you, add this blog to your reading list. I hope some day you can light someone else's flame.
(Disclaimer: The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the Superstition Fire & Medical District positions, strategies or opinions.)