Blog by Brian Ward
Officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia

Awhile back I asked my crew members their opinions on the top five principles for rookie firefighters. I had everyone write down their ideas, I mulled it over, and then put together my own list.

The newcomer was entering the field with the basics (Firefighter I, Firefighter II, Hazmat Operations and EMT-I). Our academy does a good job of preparing these firefighters with an extensive 32-week recruit school. However, adapting to the field and expanding on the basic items learned in recruit school can prove difficult if the field personnel do not set the tone on the newcomers very first day.

As I thought about what five principles I wanted to pass on, several jumped to the front of my head. In order to keep rookie firefighters from mental overload, or confusing them with 10,000 different policies and guidelines, I wanted to get right to the most important things they need to understand.

Now, I’ve seen published lists of what rookie firefighters should know in different magazines before and those reports are generally applicable to all fire departments. My major concern, though, was to identify specifics pertaining to our crew, apparatus and territory. I decided there were no barriers to what types of principles I would instill. These principles could be anything from equipment location to station duties.

The list below contains the items I decided to be the most important. I believe that if everyone in our station follows these simple rules, it will ensure everyone goes home safely and all the other skills and attitudes will fall in line:

1. We are a motivated crew. We train every day, including Sundays for at least one hour. Accept it. Be the first to participate in the drills and train as if your life depends on it because you know what, it does!

2. There is no I Can’t on the incident scene. The same thing goes for the training grounds. There is no I Can’t, only I Won’t. If you’re unable to complete the drill, do it again and again until you’re successful.

3. Listen before acting. Do exactly what the officer tells you to do on the incident scene, and stay one step ahead of the officer. For example, if the officer has his bunker pants on, you should already have your pants, coats, gloves and helmet on. Understand the difference between thinking ahead and freelancing.

4. Learn your duties and do them before you’re told. This will earn you respect in the station that will turn into respect on the incident scene as you gain experience. Crew camaraderie and integrity starts in the station.

5. Learn the equipment on the apparatus. One tool equals one compartment opened.

These items are simple in concept and should be upheld in the station. Simply talking to your new rookie could be the difference in him becoming an asset, or a liability. As a leader, do not allow the motivation of the new firefighter to slip away. That goes for everyone in your crew.

If we follow these principles, I believe we will be better individually, and as a team. Remember, in the very beginning, you have the chance to mold new firefighters into what they will be for the next 30 years. It’s an important responsibility to get them started on the right track.

As always train hard, take care and be safe.

Editor’s Note: This article originally posted with TargetSolutions in November of 2010.

About the Author
Brian Ward is an engineer/acting officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia. He is a past training officer, chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers and currently serves on the Honeywell Advisory Council. He is a State of Georgia Advocate for Everyone Goes Home and the Membership Task Force Co-Chair and Live Fire Instructor for ISFSI. Brian was recently awarded the National Seal of Excellence from the NFFF/EGH.