At a recent fire department meeting our Chief had everybody stand up and move against the wall if they would be retiring due to meeting their required years of service or meeting the cities retirement age requirement within the next 10 years. As I looked around I noticed the wall was full. Counting them up there is 21 people who will be retiring. To fill these positions it will take 41 promotions. There is going to be some major changes in our department and the impact will be huge.
Moving these 21 men to the wall and looking around at the other members it is very easy to see we are a very young and inexperienced department without the guys that are nearing the end of their careers. As a matter of fact at least 50% of our department has 5 years or less on the job. Which has got me thinking that we are already behind when it comes to preparing to become the next leaders of our department.
Today fires in a lot of areas are few and far between. Due to advancements in fire retardant construction materials, sprinklers both commercial and residential, codes enforcement, public fire safety programs, and many other factors fire just don’t happen like they did 20-30 years ago. Fires today are also different in the way they burn. They are hotter and burn faster than fires of the past, mainly due to materials involved such as synthetics.
Today’s firefighters will not see the fires that the firefighters of the past have seen. That is why the experience, knowledge, and tactics to name a few that we will lose over the next 10 years are so invaluable. No matter what we do now to prepare us for the future we can still never make up for what we are losing as these guys retire. We must start preparing ourselves right now to step up and become the leaders we need to be to take our department into the future, because we are the future and its rapidly sneaking upon us. This is the time we should make ourselves like a sponge to absorb everything that the experienced guys can teach us and pass on.
We must also look at where the fire service is going and how the types of calls we respond to in the future will be different than today. Think about the future of lightweight construction, sprinkler requirements, automobiles, etc. The list of all this could go on. To know where we are going though we have to understand where we have been and then make the necessary changes.
This is not a problem that is only effecting my department, this is, has been, and will be going on all over the country. As my chief stated to us… “ It is up to you to decide where you want to be in this department and then make it happen. Prepare yourself today because tomorrow you will be the one calling the shots.”
Are you prepared?