Things I’ve Learned



Everyone warming up with their cup of regulah? It's cold out there today. Let's just sit and chat for a while until we warm up a little, shall we?

The following is a partial list of things I've learned or have come to believe are true over my career. These are my beliefs, which come from my experiences and may be different from yours. They are in no particular order of importance, except the last two, which should be the most important. Please feel free to add your own in the comments.

1)   The fire service is a small world. Everyone knows someone. And with the internet, everyone knows someone you'd never in a million years think they'd know. Keep it in mind.

2)   Even though I do it more than I'd care to admit, responding out of emotion is rarely the correct choice.

3)   The day you say "screw it" to checking a piece of equipment is the day you'll need to use it and it won't work.

4)   I don't care what anyone says, there's something to the whole full-moon thing.

5)   The shift before you have something really important to do, you'll be up all night. Guaranteed.

6)   This job is fairly simple. It's when we try to simplify it even more with acronyms, flow-charts and decision making models that we generally screw it up beyond all recognition.

7)   Getting promoted has very little to do with how good a firefighter you were, or are. In fact, it is generally the exact opposite.

8 )   Little things matter. Don't believe me? Have an o-ring fail on your airpack sometime.

9)   You may get away with something you shouldn't 100 times. But that 101st time, ouch.

10) There is no feeling in the world like saving another human life.

11) There is no feeling in the world like not being able to save another human life.

12) People that are just a little touched don't scare me. They can be kinda fun. People that are truly hoopie, that don't live on the same planet as the rest of us, they terrify me.

13) When someone looks at you and tells you they are going to die, believe them.

14) There is nowhere colder than at the top of a stick flowing water on a greater alarm fire in the middle of winter.

15) The drive into work on Christmas morning is one of the loneliest and saddest, no matter how long you have on the job.

16) When something at home breaks, won't open, won't start or leaks you'll be at the firehouse. Promise.

17) You'll get hurt at some point. Hopefully it won't be serious.

18) If you try to "just get by" it'll cost you at least twice as much as if you would have just done it the right way the first time.

19) Some of the best friends you'll ever have will come from this job. So will the worst enemies.

20) He who talks the most generally also gets ignored the most.

21) If you are a good officer you're company will perform well for you because of you. If you are a poor officer your company will do so for and because of the barn-boss.

22) You can know exactly where you are going but be driving to the wrong place. Think about it, Magellan.

23) Being a lowly firefighter is the best job on the department. Officers, am I wrong?

24) If you want to know if there is any company pride, or a morale problem, look at their hand tools. Hand tools and their state of care is like a window to a company's soul.

25) You will work for idiots.

26) You are, in fact, an idiot from time to time also.

27) You'll have an "Oh S*%t" moment at some point. When you do, thank God you're ok and learn from it.

28) An Engine is an Engine. A Truck is a Truck. A Rescue is a Rescue. A Squad is a Squad that performs one of its two primary functions at a time. A Quint is a pipe-dream unless it has a minimum of six members on it.

29) A Halligan is a solid piece of formed steel with an adz, pick, bar and fork. Anything that is more than one piece and has those other features is an imposter.

30) If you get a "feeling" listen to it. Usually it pays off. It might not be in the form of a massive collapse, explosion or other really bad situation being avoided, but it will pay off somehow.

31) There is always someone better than you.

32) The fire service is an political animal. I hate it too, but get used to it. The Chief, Mayor, Selectmen or Trustees will not always make the "right" decision.

33) A company officer has his or her place on the fireground. And it's with their company.

34) If what you are seeing in front of you doesn't seem right, it's probably because it isn't. Take a second to think about it before going forward.

35) People are rescued alive from seemingly impossible conditions. Give them a chance.

36) Training is the most important "thing" in the fire service. Sorry Pub Ed/Prevention nazis, but it is. 

37) You will rarely be thanked in an amount equal to what you really put forth. But if that's why you're doing this then you're already screwed.

38) Your family won't always understand fully why you are so tired, upset or emotionally drained. You have to undertand that from them though. Get over it.

39) We see some really crappy stuff.

40) We see some really hysterical stuff too. Laugh heartily when you get the chance.

41) No one will ever fully understand what a juvenile, fun, crass, wonderful place a firehouse can be unless you're in the club.

42) Anyone who says an axe is only a cutting tool and not a prying tool has never really forced a door.

43) In my opinion the best position on the fire department is the irons.

44) The age of the "Keyboard Firefighter" is in full swing (not me though, I swear). My advice is to ignore much of it but rip their freakin' heads off when they are just dead ass wrong.

45) New kids are like lumps of clay. Or pieces of s*%t. Figure out which is which and either mold them or flush them.

46) A senior firefighter or Barn Boss can have more of an influence than any officer ever will. It can be good or bad, however. It's up to the officer to use it or squash it.

47) Bucketing, an egg in a boot, the "Cinnamon Dragon" and ice water into the shower are still funny. Fake gunmen, wrapping people up and hanging them upside down and other such non-sense that is videotaped and posted on YouTube for everyone to see your idiocy, is not. 

48) When you partially go through the floor and fire is trying to eat up your leg until the Engine from below hits it and beats it back, go thank them. Even though they still wish they were assigned to a special services unit.

49) Playing with your kids and loving on your wife is better therapy than a bottle or anything else will ever be.

50) This is still the best job in the world. You don't have to be here. Remember that.

Now getjerbutts off 'da Tailboard and add something to this list.



  • Ken Scofield says:

    Keep a dry pair of socks and a dry sweatshirt on the apparatus in cold weather. You’ll regret it off you don’t.

  • KJJ says:

    When you have to take a piss…take a piss, because the bell always sounds as you’re on your way to take a piss!

  • B Gardner (chill) says:

    If somthing can go wrong, it will go wrong.

  • Pat says:

    28 & 29 are Gospel. These are “unitaskers” for a reason. These are specialties as much as gym oncology or proctology.
    I was lucky. My crews never passed up a chance to make the old captain look good.

  • Rob C. says:

    # 50.
    I love my job and feel it is the best job in the world.  I am very proud but strive to be humble.  I also remind myself of a saying a friend of mine used to say.  If it weren't for me…they'd hire someone else! 

  • K. Foley says:

    The only shift that does any work is the one on duty, the other shifts don't do a damn thing!
    There are no atheists in burning buildings!

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