A lot is to be said about passing the torch in the fire service. As my department finishes its transition from a senior department to a department where most of the rank and file have less than five years on, there is an obvious gap in knowledge and experience, as to be expected. Having 15 years on, I can see firsthand how we have lost some major assets, and once those people retire, frankly there is no way to get their knowledge and experience back, let alone the history and traditions of their time which really explains how we got to where we are today. From my personal standpoint, being the newly assigned officer to our special operations station, I watched four of our Hazmat Guru's retire without any proper succession program or transition process to prepare their replacements for the position they were going to be given. These individuals literally left with valuable knowledge that left us up a creek without a paddle. Contacts for suit purchasing, suit testing procedures, monitor repair knowledge, our inventory of equipment and location, basically the most critical information needed to continue our Hazmat program. How could such a transition take place without preparation? When it comes to promote to the chief level, promotions have been made up to three months early for the new chief to shadow and learn all aspects of their new position, however in the field there is no succession plan. I would like to give our administration the benefit of the doubt since at the time there were many people retiring and with our current bid process and difficulty in finding the right people with the right certifications maybe this issue was over looked, none the less it was overlooked and people were placed in situations without the tools to succeed and in our business that puts our crews in danger.
So why didn't our soon to be retiree's pass the torch? Why couldn't they pass this knowledge before leaving? Well if you were to ask someone to spend their last few months on the job training all day above the prescribed departmental training I can understand why. This problem falls on the laps of both our administration and our senior members. I heard a story of Marines where on November 10th, the Marine's birthday, they have a cake celebration where the most senior Marine cuts the cake and gives the slice to the youngest Marine in a representation of "passing the torch" and that really makes a lot of sense and is a valuable tradition. We as boots on the ground should always be looking to pass our knowledge and experience to the next person. The senior firefighter is often one of the most valuable members of a crew. Taking someone under your wing and making it your personal responsibility to make them better and guide them should be the number one priority. Even as the officer at the station, passing on knowledge to prepare those newer individuals is paramount. Station bids are necessary for this process but it’s important to know what the firefighters career goals are and those should be considered from day one. Training someone and preparing them for a path they may leave after a year may not favor the company in the long term but regardless for the time being they are at least in a better place to handle some of the dangerous calls we are essentially claiming to be able to handle. Lastly, the new guy or gal needs to be motivated and eager to learn their craft. If the senior firefighter is constantly pulling the individual out of the recliner then it might be a lost point. Someone who is passionate and wants to learn will not only be a self-starter but will also motivate crew involvement and it’s a win-win for everyone. Throwing packets at individuals and saying once they are completed, they are competent is far from the truth. We need to as an organization look at our process and ensure we prepare our members to our best ability because it’s our lives on the line here. Just because we are at a particular station or assigned to a unit doesn't mean we are fit for the job and I understand a lot of knowledge is gained by experience however we can do better. You can have the best rigs and equipment but unless you understand it all then it’s all useless. The person in that seat is the most valuable tool on that truck. How do you and your departments handle this type of situation? Are you guys passing the torch? Comment below and let us know! Train hard, be safe, use common sense and ensure everyone goes home.