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5 Things New Firefighters Must Do To Be Successful During Probation

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So here I am sitting in the Sam’s club food court, enjoying a 4 oz hotdog and a drink for $1.50, can’t beat that man. Anyway, as I was enjoying my lunch, I was surfing the internet, reddit and quora specifically. I came across a question that peaked my interest. This individual asked, how can a new firefighter make himself/herself stand out and leave a great impression on the crew and the rest of the members of the team. I became motivated to write about this topic, since I recently wrote about 6 reasons new firefighters get fired while on probation.

So today I’m going to write about the things you should be doing if you are a new firefighter on probation. So there are at least 5 things that you as a probationary firefighter should be doing, to make your life and career have a very smooth start. You should be early, work hard and make sure people see it. You should be taking initiative, listen more than you speak, do what you’re told, be coachable, and stay in your lane. I’m going to go much deeper on each of these points, because they are important.

Be Early

There is a reason this is first on the list. That is because it is one thing that will be known about you right away, on the first day. Is this guy/gal someone we can trust to be here on time, in the right place, in the right uniform. Rumors and reputations spread very quickly throughout the fire service, and being late is not something you want to be known for.

The problem with being late or even showing up to the station exactly at the start of shift, is that you need to be ready to go at the start of your shift. If shift starts at 0800, and you show up at 0758, you probably won’t even have all of your stuff out of your car and your gear set up if a call comes in at that time. If you cannot be trusted to be ready to go with your crew at a moment’s notice, that will be bad for your reputation.

When you are early to your shift (which is on time), this lets you do a few things. Gives you the opportunity to set up your turnout (bunker) gear set up in the truck,engine or ambulance. Being on time also gives you the opportunity to check for the locations of all equipment and tools.

There are times when things get moved around, you are working a trade at another station on another truck, or even if the usual truck is out for maintenance, and you are riding on the backup truck. You need to know where all of your equipment is at all times, and that they are working properly.

Work Hard & Be Proactive

Next thing that is essential that you do from the very beginning is that you need to work hard, take initiative at all times. As you do your research into the fire service, and do the things necessary to get hired by your dream department, such as picking up certifications for both fire and EMS, there are trends you notice that seem to be common expectations for rookie firefighters or even if you’re not a rookie, but are the lowest ranking firefighter in a company such as housekeeping.

A lot of housekeeping.

As the new guy, you are EXPECTED to be mopping, sweeping, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming, washing dishes, washing the trucks and engines, refilling SCBA bottles. You are literally responsible for doing all of the grunt work, and things that senior firefighters do not necessarily want to do, but still need to get done.

During a working structure fire, usually, the lower ranking firefighters are responsible for getting water supply for the engineer, as well as grabbing the hose lines and lining them up where they need to go. You need to know this expectation, and own it.

Firefighters do not like lazy people, and many times they will straight up tell you that. Don’t assume that all firefighters are lazy and will make you do all of the work, because they will help you, but they want to see if you will take initiative, and if it takes prompting for you to do something or not.

This is something I specifically did when I started at my department. I went in knowing that I will be responsible for all the “crappy” tasks, and my goal was to own them. As soon as I got to the station, I would not sit around the coffee table with the other firefighters, because there were tasks that needed to be done, and because my goal was to stay in my own lane until the time was right. Meaning, until I got invited to participate and until I was off of probation.

I will expand more on this later in this post. Even before shift change began, I would start by cleaning the bathrooms in preparation for our shift. Once shift handover would begin and morning briefing, I would be present for those with everyone else. Once this was done, I would wait for our Lieutenant to announce the plans for the day, after that when the crew would begin to have morning coffee or breakfast, I would go right back to cleaning the bathrooms, toilets, showers, mirrors, vacuum the carpets, restock the ambulance with equipment, wash trucks, I would do whatever I could to constantly be productive, on time, and not afraid to do the crappy jobs.

Listen More Than You Speak

I know there might be some mixed thoughts about whether or not probies or probationary firefighters should be able to voice their opinions and thoughts. What people consider the old school way is that as a probie, you shut your mouth and only speak when spoken to. The other school of thought is that probies should be able to have a voice in regards to their opinions and concerns.

There is however one for sure way to navigate these sometimes complicated waters. Listening much more than you speak.

If you are asked to do something, please oh please, do it immediately, do not wait on it.

Many of the firefighters you will be working with will have 10,20, 30 years of experience and they tend to be very willing to share their knowledge with the new guys.

This goes right into my next point.

Be Coachable

Senior firefighters are going to want to teach you everything they know. What you learn in the academy, most often gets replaced with the way your department likes to do things.

Now, there is ALWAYS one guy/gal who has a family member who’s a firefighter or fire officer, who likes to flaunt their family history in the fire service, or the person just knows EVERYTHING about everything there is about firefighting.

These people are not very coachable and they are not pleasant to work with at all. These people have a hard time being corrected or even just taking corrective criticism.

If you build for yourself the reputation of being a know it all probie, you may find yourself looking for a new job in the near future.

Stay In Your Lane

Finally, the last piece of advice I can give you as a new firefighter or even an intern firefighter (if you have that available in your area) is to stay in your lane. When I say staying in your lane, I’m saying do not certain things that senior firefighters are doing.

One great example is calling an officer by his/her first name. The other firefighters and that officer have been working together for 10+ years together on a crew. You cannot and should not assume that you have the same privileges. If the older guys on your crew are joking and taking jabs at each other, if they include you, then maybe you can take some friendly jabs back. But whatever you do, do NOT just invite yourself.

One subtle example is when I was an intern, I was assigned to a specific shift and crew. In that crew was a probie washing dishes as we all sat at the dinner table. I felt very out of place, even though I was not participating in the conversation. One of the older guys leaned over to me and said, “ hey, you wanna go give him a hand?” So I took that as a “ Hey, go give him a hand!!!” Know your role, and know it well. Make sure that the responsibilities you are given, are completed, and that you become a master at doing it/them.


I want to close this out with the idea that you need to go into probation or a new department or station, as a hard working, coachable new firefighter. Leave a positive impression on everyone you meet. If something needs to be done, do it without being prompted to do so. If something needs cleaning, do it without prompting. You will start to build a very positive image with the members of that agency.

If you would like a simple yet very effective 4 step process on how to get hired by your dream department, make sure to sign up below, it’s free and you will not regret it.


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