Is the "Medic Mentality" what's actually killing the Fire Service?

I slammed out a pretty decent post last week. I say I “slammed” it out because I was frustrated as hell when I wrote it. I also say it was “pretty decent” because of the number of “Hits”, “Shares” and “Comments” it received… and they’re still coming in! If you haven’t already, please take the time to read it before going further in this post (just click the title below)

read  “How to kill a Fire Department

Ok, so I’m guessing that the title of this post  captured the attention of many.  It may have even upset a few of ya. Now, before you start gathering a posse, or tone out the lynch mob; give me the chance to explain my thought process here. Also try to keep in mind that this is a question. I’m asking because I want your opinion. It may or may not be mine … these are just some observations I’ve made.

In the previous post (How to kill a Fire Department) I threw a lot of the “blame” on low morale. In turn, I equated low morale to poor leadership. It must have “hit home” for a lot of Brothers and Sisters out there. The majority of those leaving comments and e-mails not only agreed, but also felt as if I was writing about their very own Department. It was almost like I could have put one of those boxes in the post … you know … something like  “Insert your Department name HERE”.

I’d like to say that I was shocked at some of the responses I received but I can’t. We are all facing the same challenges and fighting the same battles. It’s the same story town after town, city after city. The same ol story, a Nation wide problem with different names and faces.

I found several other similarities in the stories and responses I received as well. To me, it all makes sense and is actually something I’ve felt for some time. You see, most of the Brothers and Sisters complaining of poor leadership and / or low morale are from Fire Departments  who have either merged with an EMS department or hired a Chief from the “EMS side” of things (again …HOLD ON and allow me to explain).

First, I know there shouldn’t be “sides” when speaking about  Fire and EMS. We’re all on the job for the same reason right? We’re supposed to be Brothers and Sisters, watching each others back. We’re on the same streets, running the same calls, seeing the same heartaches day after day…. right? Right.

I think that many of the newer / younger members of today’s Fire Service may not even realize it but, as early as just 15 years ago; there were definite lines drawn between Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Mergers were happening all across the Country. “Medics” were walking through doors of fire houses making more money than members who had time on the job. That’s understandable until they say that the firefighter has to ride the ambulance for a tour so the medic can get some “Engine time”.

You can guess what the feelings were and what was said in that house can’t ya? … Engine time? I though they were making more money because they rode the ambulance? Now, with less seniority and experience; he ( or she) wants to do my job, to make me do his (or hers) and all because he or she needs a break or wants to play fireman!?!

Many across the Country even received “rank” in these mergers.  The “magic wand” was waved and they entered the door as Lieutenants, Captains, Battalions and even Deputies. In many’s eyes, it HAD to be that way. How could a “Fire Department” Officer supervise a Paramedic? How many “Fire Department” Officers understood the functions and needs of Emergency Medical Services or how their system works? The reality was that some Medical personnel would HAVE to be placed in those positions and many went straight to administrative Chief positions.

Maybe not a bad idea at first, BUT what happens when original or “Fire Department” administration begins to retire? After the Department begins to “settle in” to the new organization? Will these folks remain in their positions or be allowed to advance up the promotional ladder?

I received several comments and e-mails explaining (and complaining) how many current Chief of Departments came from “EMS”….. that they were never a firefighter nor did they have to climb through the ranks. It was also said that they didn’t understand “the job” or it’s members (“paper” education vs. street experience was also frequently mentioned ).

It was obvious to me that there is not a lot of respect for these Chiefs. How could there be?

In that previous post (How to kill a Fire Department), I mentioned a story that a previous Chief once told me. He attempted to explain that the pilot of a 747 never had to work in the position of  loading the baggage. He (tried to ) explain that the pilot didn’t need to know and understand that job to do his ( this is the same Chief that told me that I couldn’t be a Boss and friend to the members ).

Now this may be true of a Pilot , but I don’t think it applies to the Fire Department. How can you lead men and women you don’t relate to? How can you understand their thinking? Their methodology? How good of a leader can you be without knowing and understanding their history and traditions? How can a person who has never sat on the tailboard for a bullshit session, ate at a firehouse table or slept in the bunk room understand firefighters?

So that brings me to my point. Many of the Chiefs leading these “troubled Departments” are Medics ( or at least previous medics). I guess this is a good spot to tell you that I was once a medic. YEA … a National Registered “glitter patch” Paramedic. That said, I was and always have been a firefighter first. I am NOT anti-Medic or EMS and I don’t think the problems I’m referring to is simply because these Chiefs are / were “Medics”, I believe it’s deeper than that .

I think it may be due to what I call the “Medic mentality”. It’s something that has been en-grained in them … from their first day of training. They think nothing at all like a Firefighter and now,  somehow they’ve found themselves managing an entire Fire Department.

Many of them either have,  or will fail ….. and it’s NOT THEIR FAULT.

They were taught (trained) to do everything by themselves (much like Police Officers). They spent a large portion of their career ALONE in the back of that ambulance. Nobody there to make decisions for them. Nobody to give direction, to assist with drug calculations, administration etc. It was a TON of responsibility on their shoulders. Theirs and theirs alone.

Sure, they had a partner but his/her job was to drive and clean up after the Medic. They even put a wall between the front and rear of the ambulance (hows that for separation and the reality of being on your own?)

They stayed on the street …. they didn’t have a “house” and if they did, it wasn’t the same as a firehouse. Often times, their partners changed with each shift. There was nothing “grounded” or regular for them. A “house” with a different partner every shift was just a place to hang out and watch TV with someone they really didn’t know … there was no sense of “ownership”.

In a lot of these cases, the medic had to out perform  his co-workers to have even a remote chance of promotion or transfer. It was a dog eat dog world and they did whatever necessary to make themselves look better than the next guy. It was easy to screw the other guy over because there were no ties to each other. In that type of work environment  there was no Brotherhood, there couldn’t be. Without a doubt, these Brothers and Sisters were on their own…they were alone. Alone in the ambulance, alone in quarters, maybe even alone at home because of it all.

For the good ones, it became 2nd nature. It HAD to. They couldn’t be taught to depend on anyone else because there was nobody else. They were on their own, they knew it and if they were to survive, they had better be good at it!

Then, when someone decided to throw them into a firehouse, they didn’t fit in. Some adapted, for others it took longer and many never did.

They couldn’t understand things as simple as meals. Cooking? Why don’t we just jump on the rig and run down to Burger King for a biscuit? Wendy’s for lunch and maybe a pizza or something when we get hungry later tonight …say around 2 am. Nobody has to cook OR do the dishes! Cleaning? Toilets? “But I don’t use that one”.  Station dues / taxes? “I don’t drink coffee or read the paper”. When you told em to find a rack and make it they looked at you like they were lost. A bed? They wanted to just sleep on the couch … after all, that’s where they were used to eating and sleeping.

It went right over their heads … all of it. A firehouse is just that…. a home. It’s our home, albeit our 2nd home; and the members inside are FAMILY.

How can they respect something they’ve never had? Something they don’t understand or have any ties to? When they became Chief, closing that station was an easy decision … station life meant nothing to them. They’d never worked at that old house. They never knew now deceased or retired  “Captain so and so” who did ‘this and that” and taught your recruit class.

I also think that back when “the lines were drawn” there was some animosity between us (Fire and EMS). I think they seen what we had over in the firehouses and wanted to be part of it… they were envious  The bad part again is that they didn’t truly understand what we had and how to get it. They figured that by just backing into the firehouse, they would  automatically  join our ranks.

That is the type of “mentality” most of us faced back then. Now, many of these members are in Chief positions all across the Country. Judging from the comments / e-mails I’ve received, several (not all)  have maintained that mentality throughout their career.  If true, then THIS is the mentality of our leaders. Agian I’ll say that it’s not their fault … it’s simply ALL THEY KNOW.

I should also add that I think (and hope) this type of mentality will phase out (hopefully sooner than later). Today’s Medics are coming onto the job and reporting straight into the firehouse. They are introduced to “firehouse life” from the beginning and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

Let me know your thoughts BUT keep em civil .

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Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines