Firefighters are a rare breed of civil servant who must possess a particular combination of traits to be effective. Firefighters take on the responsibility of protecting the public not just in cases of fires, but also in countless other emergency situations. Many times, firefighters are among the first response teams to arrive at the scene of an accident. As a firefighter, you need to be strong both physically and mentally, and make a firm commitment to protecting the public and your peers.
Firefighters must be in excellent physical shape. You must be speedy and agile to respond quickly and maneuver into and out of tight and dangerous spaces. Your speed and agility could make the difference between saving someone's life and leaving them to die. Pure strength also is important, as you often have to lift heavy objects, carry people and push through bulky debris. Prepare to work long shifts and be able to respond quickly to any call, whether you are fatigued or not.
Good firefighters balance brains with bravery through intuition. You must have a clear sense of intuition based on the balance between your oath to protect and serve and common sense. This means you must know when it's appropriate to charge ahead and break down the doors, and when it's best to try a more subtle approach or cut your losses and abandon a scene. This does not mean that it's acceptable for you to give up and leave people to die or to opt out of taking risks. Speed and aggression are not appropriate for every situation. In some cases, for example, an attempt to aggressively enter a building to save time and lives may end up compromising the integrity of the building, preventing anyone from being saved.
Firefighters must be able to communicate effectively in many contexts, being sensitive to what is appropriate in each case. On the job, quick and concise communication is required for teams to coordinate effectively and maximize the time frame for rescue operations. As a good firefighter, you must check to make sure all messages are understood before proceeding. You also must communicate to the people you’re attempting to rescue with a calm, assertive and reassuring demeanor. Finally, you must be able to communicate safety and awareness messages to the broader public without inciting panic or fear.
Firefighters take an oath to protect and serve the public to the best of their abilities. There is no room for slacking off, uncertainty or laziness in this field. The very basis of your job is commitment, which means that everything is secondary to the job of serving the public. The potential rewards of being a firefighter are great, but they do not typically include a lot of glory, recognition or riches. Commitment to your role as a firefighter means that you often must be prepared to make personal sacrifices to further the long- and short-term goals of protecting the public.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."