The other day, I stopped by the local community college in my area, and was chatting with some of the fire instructors about how things are going with them, how things are going with me etc. I then saw some of the law enforcement instructors I also had when I went through the police academy, and It was a great interaction. She began to tell me that she gave a speech to her recruit class about keeping all of their options open, if law enforcement were not to work out for them. She told me, if only she would’ve seen me just a few minutes earlier, she would’ve pulled me into the class and talked about my transition from law enforcement into the fire service.
As much as I love to talk a person’s ears off, especially the chance to do it to an entire class, it made me take a step back and think about the most common reasons that I’ve seen that causes people to lose their job while still on probation. This applies both to law enforcement and the fire service.
6 Common reasons new firefighters or even police officers get fired while still on probation are :
- Being completely unprepared
- Inability/unwillingness to follow directions
- Dangerous Behavior
- Background check shows more than what they disclosed in their application
- On/off duty conduct
One reason people tend to lose their jobs while on probation is a lack of preparation. This applies both academically as well as physically. If you are hired by a department, and it becomes very evident that you are out of shape, you are now identified as a liability to that department. I talk a little more about this in a post I recently wrote in regards to if it is more difficult to become a firefighter or police officer. Both in the fire service and in law enforcement, if you are not in good physical shape, you are a hazard to others. Getting into this field completely physically unprepared is one of the biggest diservices you can do for yourself. This same exact requirement applies if you are going to the police academy or even basic training for the military.
I remember in basic training, people getting kicked out of the military, because they could not improve physically fast enough for them to pass the basic physical requirements for the job. I think one of the biggest problems with those people is that they thought they would be alright, rolling off the couch and hop right into a highly strenuous physical demand. The same thing applied with both the police academy and fire academy, both have statutory requirements for physical fitness expectations that their public service employees must meet. If you cannot come to terms with this, honestly, just forget about public safety all together.
Many make the mistake that they don’t really need to study to become a firefighter. If you are hired by a large department that has its own fire academy, as an employee (recruit) it is literally your job to become academically proficient in becoming certified. No matter if the academy is a regional academy, or if it’s your agency’s own academy, they both must adhere to IFSAC or ProBoard standards. That means, even if you got hired by a department, if you cannot pass your certifications, you cannot be a firefighter, and out the door you go.
You need to realize that you are not studying for a mere degree or certification, these are things that you need to be aware of that can kill you, and how you can survive and live to tell the tale. For example, knowing what hazards you are dealing with an a hazmat situation can save your life, or even just knowing that smoke in a common structure is likely to contain hydrogen cyanide (will kill you) hydrogen sulfide (will kill you too) or carbon monoxide (will also kill you) sometimes both, will keep you from thinking like most people, that they can just run through smoke, and not die from the smoke within a few breaths.
Immaturity is another killer to new firefighters in the fire service. I have to point out that there are many faces to immaturity, even some related to public safety, that you may not be aware of, or think is a big deal. Some of these I’ve had to learn the hard way unfortunately.
The first type of immaturity is commonly seen in younger guys/gals coming into the fire service, but it does not apply to all young people, same way not all older people would be considered mature. I would say this can be somewhat subtle or difficult to interpret, because your crew may be the type of crew who love to joke around and do “immature” pranks or tell “immature” jokes. In my personal opinion, it is to know the style of the people you work with. In the fire service, it is very common to have your boundaries tested, as long as you establish what they are, everyone should respect that, no questions asked. If you are in a group of mostly guys and gals who have one a serious demeanor to them, it might not be the place or they may never be the people where you can tell certain jokes or do certain pranks because they may consider you to be immature, while other coworkers may think it’s the funniest thing in the world.
Public Safety Immaturity
The next type of immaturity, I like to call, is public safety immaturity. And this one can be very difficult to know if it is considered immature, unless you get reprimanded about it. This is one of those things I personally had to learn the hard way when I was a cop. I liked to be on Facebook, and text people when I had downtime at work. You may think that this isn’t immature, and you may be right, but things are different when you get into public safety. As a public safety professional, social media is not your friend at all. Why, if there is an incident that happens where there is a lot of buzz on facebook or twitter, like a huge rollover that occurs on a main street in your city, and you comment on it with “yea, it was pretty bad pulling those victims out” or anything that would tie you directly to that scene, you can almost be sure, that was your last facebook comment as a firefighter.
Inability/Unwillingness To Follow Directions
The next thing that tends to get new firefighters in hot water quickly, is simply not following directions. It is easy to forget that when you are asked to do something, even if it’s as simple as, “hey man, when you get a chance, can you scrub those toilets?” Even though this was asked nicely, and you were asked to just get it done whenever you have the chance, this needs to be done ASAP. If you forget to do this, it will be noted, and it will not look good on you whatsoever. Your company officers and senior firefighters want to see if you can follow directions AND do it when you were asked to do it, please don’t put it off.
Following directions is very important, because it is absolutely essential for survival in a dangerous situation such as a hazmat situation or a structure fire. Freelancing is a term used in the fire service to describe a person who likes to wander off and do his or her own thing. They don’t necessarily listen to what they were told to do, and will do what THEY think is the appropriate next action. Do not be that guy, if you like being a firefighter, do not do this.
This next point ties in with freelancers. The next reason that firefighters get fired while on probation is dangerous behavior. Freelancing is extremely dangerous, and it can become difficult to extinguish a fire, let alone get out safely. For example, if your company is attempting to knock down an oxygen deficient fire, and it is starting to go into the decay phase, the freelancer decides and opens a door or window. This introduction of oxygen gives life to this fire that was not expected, and can endanger the lives of those firefighters in there. If enough oxygen is introduced, that room can begin showing signs that it wants to flash if it gets bad enough.
Other dangerous behavior that is not as obvious as this, but very common is not wearing a seatbelt in the truck, engine or even ambulance. The number cause of injury to firefighters besides overexertion is injuries caused by not wearing a seatbelt. If this is something you do not usually do, you need to get used to doing it. You may think it’s not a big deal, or that the emergency vehicles do not travel that fast, but accidents that occur to emergency vehicles, no matter how slow, can become deadly for the people inside.
Another form of dangerous behavior is failing to maintain your equipment. If you become known for failing to refill your SCBA bottle, or not properly maintaining your equipment, would you trust you to have your back in a fire? No! If you have a new firefighter who keeps forgetting to fill up his bottle after each use, you enter a hazmat environment or structure fire, and that firefighter’s EOSTI alarm (low air alarm) begins to go off, before he/she has even done anything. That’s a problem, maintaining your equipment can save your life, it’s that important.
Background Check Shows More Than Expected
When you fill out a background packet, I just want you to be aware that it is a VERY extensive background check. This is not like your normal corporate job background check. Many times fire departments may have their law enforcement counterparts do some background checks for them. It is not uncommon for investigators to talk to your landlords, teachers, former bosses, co workers, neighbors and even ex boyfriends/girlfriends. Why would they contact them, you ask? Well, they are looking for any contradicting information that they may find about you. Sure, they’ll talk to the references that you provided them, but they want to know what people think of you who you did not list as a reference.
If you indicate on your application for example, that you do not do recreational drugs or anything like that, great. Now they will ask neighbors, and other people who are not necessarily your friends or family and they will see what you post on social media. If they find posts or pictures of you with a joint in your mouth, or even having pictures of you being sloppy drunk that was dated like 6 months ago, this is information that you did not previously mention.
Another very common omission that I have seen gets a lot of people are expungements. If you have had some crime or anything in your background that was expunged, it is very important that you still be upfront about it, just as if it were not expunged. Investigators have the resources to see if there has been anything in your past that was expunged, and that omission is considered lying. If there is a single quickest way that can instantaneously get you fired, that is lying. Lying is literally the killer of so many aspiring firefighters careers.
On/Off Duty Conduct
On duty and off duty actions can and will affect your job. Why, because people in your neighborhood know who the firefighters are, or the police officers are. Everything you do off the job, gives people the impression of what type of people are employed by that agency. When I was a cop, there was a guy who got hired with me to the local sheriff’s office. That individual went out drinking one night while on probation, and got into a bar fight with some people. The department knew about it before he had his next shift. When he came back on shift, he was walked right out, without a job.
Everything you do once you get into a firefighter job, or even just in the application process, will affect you and your employment. You cannot be breaking the rules of the road and getting tickets from the police, you must fly under the radar much more than before, simply because the things you do off duty and even far from the jurisdiction you serve in, can and will affect your jobs. Don’t drive while you’re drunk, to get involved in any domestic violence, do not do anything that will draw negative attention to yourself, because while you are on probation, it can and will cost you the job you have worked years to get.
I hope this was very helpful, and I know that there are much more things that tend to get new probationary firefighters canned. While you are on probation, this is the time for you to learn as much as you can. You must remain teachable, respectful and with a great work ethic. You need to have the same respect and attitude from day 1 to day 366 or however long your probation is and beyond. Do not build a bad reputation for yourself, because that will only hurt you in the long run.
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