Understanding Who “We” are and Millennials in the Fire Service

Paul Combs

Paul Combs

I’ve been involved in an Officer Development Program at work. I say “involved in” as in I’m taking it… not presenting LOL.

Our City is providing the class and every Captain and Battalion Chief  (all 3 Platoons) is required to attend the 5 sessions spanning from December 2015 through April 2016.

I’ve been an Officer in our Department for nearly 20 years. I’ve been a Captain for 16 years, scored as high as #1 and have been passed over 8 times for Promotion to Battalion Chief.

I learn something everyday from the job. I’m always trying to improve, grow, expand my knowledge and become a better person, Officer and employee. I’m also in somewhat of a “rut”. I’m tired, I’m old and to a point, maybe set in my ways(?) Needless to say, I was skeptical about this class.

hqdefaultI’ve had em before. Setting in a cold room in an uncomfortable chair with someone who knows absolutely NOTHING about being a Firefighter. Someone who doesn’t have a clue about who we are or what we see and do on a daily basis telling me how and what I’m thinking and how to do my job. The decisions “they” make may hurt someone’s feelings or make another feel “uncomfortable”. The decisions I make result in life and death. My decisions affect both IF and HOW people live (I know… decisions vs. action but you understand what I’m saying).

Maybe it’s just me but, I think “we” (Fire, EMS, Police, First Responders) are unique. We are a special breed (if you will). We have a bond and understanding that someone from outside our ranks just can’t understand. Our Instructor / Presenter said just that yesterday. She called it “Teamwork” but what she was seeing is the bond and understanding that we as Firefighters share. She’s never seen it and doesn’t understand it because she’s not one of us.  We are NOT a “Team”… we’re a FAMILY and our job DEMANDS that kind of relationship.


It was an interactive class / session. We tossed a beanbag around to speak, read questions from a soccer ball and participated in team building / communicating exercises (yea… I know).

The class was presented by TTI Success Insights . From their web site… ” For 30 years, TTI SI has been providing businesses throughout the globe with the finest assessment tools and talent analytics systems to hire, retain, develop and manage the best talent in the market.

The interesting thing is that they had us do an online survey days before attending. The “Talent Insights Report” was designed to provide insight to behaviors, motivators and the integration of the two. They say that “understanding strengths and weaknesses in these areas will lead to personal and professional development and a higher level of satisfaction.”

ttisi-logo-1c4c693433fe6ffe8f6d95ab476810caThey also add that “Behavioral research suggests that the most effective people are those who understand themselves, both their strengths and weaknesses, so they can develop strategies to meet the demands of their environment” . 

As I’m taking this survey, answering questions and placing them in an order from most to least important to me; I’m calling “bullshit”. There’s  NO WAY they can know ANY THING about me from how I answer these stupid questions on a computer.

Captain Willie Wines Jr by Nate Camfiord editedWell, I was wrong. The results were pretty much on point. Here are some “General Characteristics” they came up with about me… ” When the time is right, William (that’s me) can stand up aggressively for what he believes. At times he can be quite skeptical. Others may misinterpret this strength as a negative one, but he is only seeking needed data… He requires many good reasons, as well as the benefits involved , before agreeing to make changes…. William usually develops strong attachments for his work group and family. He likes to start and finish activities. Others who wok with him know they can depend on him.”

” William uses logic to assist him in decision making. This tendency is helpful to others in his group. He is good at analyzing situations that can be felt, touched, seen, heard, personally observed or experienced…. subordinates may find it refreshing to be on his team. Once he has arrived at a decision, he can be tough-minded and unbending….. He can be sensitive to the feelings of others and is able to display real empathy for those who are experiencing difficulties.”

66f635e46410cea9bfb3abdc470a8e47“William likes to know what is expected of him in a working relationship and have the duties and responsibilities of others who will be involved explained…. He tends to be possessive of information; that is, he doesn’t voluntarily share information with others outside his team. He may guard some information unless he is asked specific questions. He will not willingly share unless he is comfortable with the knowledge he possess about the topic. He remains aloof from active participation in unfamiliar groups. He will talk more, however, in a group of people he trusts and has known for a long time….. Basically introverted, he will engage in social conversation when the occasion warrants…. Stubbornness surfaces when his ideals and beliefs are confronted. Rarely does he display his emotions; that is, he projects a good poker face. Others may get the feeling that he is unfriendly, when in reality he is not.”

Their results ranked me near the bulls eye as both a “S-L” or Supporter / Driver on the Success Insight Wheel (above left). That means I ask questions like “What” and “How”. At my best, I am a Thoughtful, Courageous, Pioneer. I’m good at Avoiding and Suppressing Stress. I will Fight conflict with a desire to Appease. I want to have Fun / Enjoy Helping others while I am Loyal and Build good Relationships.

So they say. Anyway, all of this helped me understand (or at least got me thinking about) who I am and why I am like I am. Maybe they were on to something? …. “Behavioral research suggests that the most effective people are those who understand themselves, both their strengths and weaknesses, so they can develop strategies to meet the demands of their environment” .

We had several good discussions with valid points made by most everyone in the room. It didn’t take long before the word “Millennials” was thrown out. Now all of us “old guys” know that the “Millennials” are, have been and will continue to be the damnation and ruin of the Fire Service…. right?

Justin Pugh Josh Rabin Crozetgazette comLOL …. well I call bullshit again. Wikipedia’s definition says… Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation[1] or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Millennials will be the largest generation in the workforce by then end of 2015

Another Captain in class said it and, I couldn’t agree more…. I don’t know how you can throw everyone (an entire generation) into one category. We are all unique individuals and although that age range does share some characteristics, I don’t think it’s fair to judge them strictly on when they were born.

I can’t help but think about what my dad (on the job for almost 30 years) and his Brothers and Sisters thought of me and the 21 members I got hired with when we walked through the door at the ripe old age of 21. The ironic thing is that now I’m one of those “old guys” probably thinking the same thing they were.

TheGreatestGenI’ll add that I don’t think it’s so much “when you were born” as “how you were raised”…. your beliefs, values, morales and work ethics.  I spoke about it in class. Think about the Soldiers of World War II…. “The Greatest Generation”.  They signed up … volunteered to go to war… to fight, kill and maybe even die in SERVICE of their (our) Country.  Today, it seems as if (and it’s even advertised as such) that our youth signs up for the military to draw a paycheck and receive an education. Some even join to avoid a jail sentence. Their reasoning / direction is just not the same. Are these the type of people we want in these positions?

I related that to the Fire Service. Not the first Firefighter in that room yesterday had to be “recruited”. Nobody had to find me on the street and tell me that I could get a steady pay check, a pension, tuition assistance etc  if I joined up. I volunteered to serve. A pay check and pension were the farthest thing from my mind at 21 years old. Maybe “service” was too but although I didn’t truly understand it, I was drawn to the job and what it called for.

If you look at my Department pre-1991, you can count on one hand how many members quit or were fired. If you look post 1991, the number is in the 100’s. Is the issue with our leadership / management or the people we hire? Is the problem as simple as “Communication”?

new-goals-infographic-1024x576Does one “generation” not understand and know how to communicate with the other? Are our directions the same? Are we each looking to achieve the same goals / objectives? If not, who changes? Who’s direction is the right one?

I hardly ever speak publicly that I don’t mention the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives .  I think its again ironic and applies that the #1 Initiative is “Cultural Change” .

If you don’t know about the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives then YOU SHOULD! They should be posted in EVERY firehouse.

fireman_up_firefighterOur top leaders got together in 2004 in an effort to reduce Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths. The 16 Initiatives are the way they thought we could best accomplish that goal.

In 2014, they reconviened in Tampa Flordia to review their findings / results. They basically concluded 2 things… #1) The original Initiatives identified were the right ones…. they got it right! Can you guess what the #2) thing they concluded was??? Keep pushing the Initiatives with more emphasis on THE COMPANY OFFICER.

Imagine that ….  asking / allowing a Company Officer to LEAD!

So I’ll ask here, how can you (we) lead if nobody is following? Are you (we) sharing the right / correct message and is it being heard? Have you heard the old saying ” I know you can hear me but I’m not sure you’re listening”?


Do you understand your strengths and weaknesses and those of your members … your Brothers and Sisters enough to develop the goals and strategies needed to move us forward? To assure that we accomplish our mission and that everyone goes home? I hope you do …. there’s a whole generation depending on us!

Stay Safe and in House!

Captain Wines