Greetings all! Hopefully you have avoided the flu, upper respiratory invasion and the cold weather. Just think, before we are ready we will all be talking about how hot and humid it is and will be hoping for fall weather to cool things off. I am sure each of you have an abundant amount of things already lined up on your schedules for the remainder of the year and I hope you have included convention, the state fair, relaxation and family time to help balance out your hectic schedules.
Let’s talk about the term professional this time. What does that really mean and how does it affect the fire service and you? Of course the dictionary says things like “relating to or connected to a profession; engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a past time; a person engaged or qualified in a profession”, but how do those definitions fit in the fire service?
Whether you are paid for what you do in the fire service or not, do you consider yourself a professional? I hope you answer here is a resounding, yes. If not then perhaps you should spend some time reflecting on why you do not. I believe it does not matter if you are paid or not, in the fire service or in any other field of work, you should always strive to be a professional. If you think about it just a little, would you want a doctor who has attended school, graduated at the top of their class and been around for a long time cutting into you to “fix” a problem if they are also not a professional? The same can be applied to calling a fire department for assistance. Even though they have shiny trucks, well dressed staff and carry their book of certificates with them wherever they go, if they are not professional in their behavior and service module do you think the public values them?
There are many ways you can exhibit your professionalism in your day to day life and certainly when it comes to being a part of the fire service and serving the public. Put the customer first. Keep in mind we have talked about the fact that our “customers” are the public for the large part, but we also have internal customers in our agencies. When you put them first you show they are valued and after all if we don’t have customers, then we probably are no longer needed. If you are an officer and you do not address the needs of those reporting to you, how long does it take before they leave and you are the only one left? Probably don’t need an officer if there is no one to supervise…just a thought.
Be the expert. Your professionalism is enhanced when you actually know the job you are doing and you have the technical skills to make things happen. You need to stay up-to-date with the industry and put your best effort forward to meet the needs of the customer. However, don’t be the “expert” that everyone soon despises because you have become the “know-it-all” not just the expert that knows how, why and what to do to make the job function and perhaps shine just a little.
Follow through with what you say you will do. Simply taking the steps to work towards what you have said will happen, even if you are not ultimately successful, will show that you do take yourself and your position seriously and you are attempting to be responsive to the customer. We have all worked with that person who talked a big game, but rarely took the action and I know at least speaking for myself, I didn’t look at those people as being very professional.
Do more than what is expected. I believe a true professional in the fire service goes above what is expected in almost every instance. Merely meeting the prescribed standard or expectation may be adequate, but in the long run does meeting the minimum really make you or your agency succeed? Do you want to be known as the “we do the minimum agency?” Let’s put that slogan on the side of our apparatus and see how that plays out with those valuable customers. This is where the passion that is in the heart of the professional comes in to play. When you are a professional and you have that passion you truly do everything you can to better yourself and our industry. Try it sometime, you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
Display professional integrity. When you consistently apply the skills, knowledge and values of our profession you are showing that you have professional integrity. In today’s world of show stopping, attention getting headlines, it feels like people are just waiting to “catch” someone not displaying professional integrity and do not hesitate to make sure it makes the 10 o’clock news. I am fairly certain you, like me, have worked with or around people who had no professional integrity. It was burdensome to take part in any activity that person is involved in and it always appeared that the fallout from that person’s actions could end up affecting you individually. We park our apparatus out of the collapse zone, so why do we put ourselves or our industry in harm’s way by failing to have professional integrity?
So back to part of the definition from earlier, if you are engaged in a profession shouldn’t you make sure you are qualified? I believe it takes a tremendous amount of self-determination and an investment in yourself to be a professional. I do not feel you have to receive a paycheck in the fire service or any other part of life to be a professional. You simply need to take the appropriate steps to make sure you are trained, you understand what you are doing, you understand the needs of the customer, you do more than what is expected, you respect the position you are in and the responsibilities you have, written or implied, and you execute what you do with laser like precision to make sure you are in fact being a professional.
It really boils down to a personal decision for each of us, do you want to be a professional engaged in the fire service or do you want to be one of those members that does nothing to enhance the proud tradition of the American fire service? I hope each of you continue to be professionals in our industry and you take it upon yourself as a professional to help those not quite meeting that level to flourish and rise to be a respected professional in our industry.
As always, never hesitate to contact me if I can be of service to you or your department. Be Safe!