People or Machine?


Occasionally, in the fire service, we have a tendency to think about staff as another resource that needs management.

“Oh, I need another Paramedic at that station.  Move him over there.”

“We need more engineers, send those two to school.”

In fact, staff has a tendency to think of themselves as objects with unlimited capacity.

“I can work another overtime shift if you need me.”

“I’ll do whatever the department needs me to do.”

The unstoppable, adapt-and-overcome attitude of the fire service is one of it’s greatest traits.

But it does get us in trouble sometimes.

Because, while an engine doesn’t really care who its driver is, team cohesion matters to a firefighter.

While an ambulance doesn’t really mind working all those extra hours, a firefighter will burn out, whether they want to or not.

When we run a piece of equipment too hard, we all know that there will be consequences.

Firefighters are not that different.  The effects of chronic stress and depression can be devastating, and are often tied very closely to work life.

Little details, such as who works together, who supervises who, the allowance for recreation, and proximity to home, while insignificant to the unobservant manager, can all make a big difference to the emotional welfare of a firefighter.

The bottom line is simple.  Firefighters are people.

Every single one of them.

And people need to be cared for.  No matter how macho and badass we are (and we surely are).

People have thoughts, ideas, dreams, and (don’t tell anyone) feelings.  Sometimes they need someone to listen to them, sometimes they need advice.  Sometimes they need a good swift kick from their officer, and sometimes they need a brother.

If you’re a manager, remember to treat your people like people, and your equipment like equipment.  They’ll all work better that way.

If you’re a grunt (like me), remember to care for your brothers and sisters to your left and right.  This work takes its toll, and when the road gets bumpy for someone on the team, the bond we share becomes all important.

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