I have been told my whole career that I cannot expect everyone to love the job the way I do and to that I say blasphemy. While this may not be a practical expectation, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be one. There are a lot of things which tear at the fabric of a fire department and for that matter the fire service in general. One of the big ones, which few want to talk about, is the acceptance of employees who joined our occupation out of need for a job rather than any type of calling. This also exists in the volunteer ranks with those who came to hang out and get a cool T-shirt but contribute squat to the department. While that may be harsh, I firmly believe that our craft is more than just a job and needs to be treated as such in order to operate at a level which will provide the appropriate level of safety to our citizens.
We have all worked around underachievers, less talented individuals, and those who simply never should have been hired. In many cases the deficiencies with these employees are blatantly obvious and easily dealt with. A more dangerous type of employee is the one that doesn’t necessarily seem deficient at face value. I refer to these employees as “good guys.” Too often people use the term good guy as a cover for those in our ranks who have no business sharing our craft. If you have never paid attention to how this term is used, I suggest you start now.
Normally if someone is referred to as good guy it is sort of a polite insult. Being a good guy generally means you are likely nice, pleasant, and mean well but no one can find anything job related to describe you in a positive manner. Good guys usually don’t bring any type of operational value to the team and are content to show up and collect their check and benefits. In other cases they freelance or perform other dangerous acts on the fireground which are accepted because they are nice people. Essentially, the term good guy is a politically correct tool for describing individuals who are liked on a personal level but don’t seem to bring any specific value to the job. Think good and hard about what is said when describing those whom you really look up to. You might hear things like great nozzleman, incredible pump operator, great leader, mentor, etc. What you will not hear is yeah, he is a good guy. Now think of the people you have heard referred to as good guys. I bet they are more useful for borrowing a tool, hobbies, or working on your vehicle than they are firefighting.
The real challenge with good guys is that they are often able to hide, unnoticed, until they slip through the cracks and advance to a point where they are exposed. They don’t seem to make any waves, they will usually maintain the minimum standard, and aren’t usually the topic of many conversations. Since most find commonalities with the rest of the team unrelated to the job, their lack of contribution can go unnoticed for a long period of time. Now I would never insult someone for being a good person, but that alone doesn’t qualify you as valuable to my fire service. Frankly I am tired of hearing about these types of people gumming up our ranks and delaying a return to a fire service that is full of pride, passion, and skill.
Another problem with good guys is that they are often well liked by middle and upper management. This is generally because they don’t make waves but also could be due to a previous friendship, family relationship, or because they were recommended by someone trusted by management. This can make them especially hard to deal with in a traditional manner as they may be protected from corrective action depending on the culture and processes of your department.
Fortunately, not all good guys are a lost cause. Many of them can be converted into passionate, contributing members of the fire service. This conversion starts with strong leadership at the company level. These individuals need company officers who are prepared to put in the extra time and effort it will take to evoke enthusiasm and passion in personnel who may not be self-motivated. Sign them up for classes and conferences, make the training area your second home, and reinforce all the wonderful things about the fire service that make you love it. Do whatever you can within the acceptable limits of your SOPs to either develop these individuals or help them realize that there are other lines of work which offer similar pay and benefits but require less personal investment. Many good guys will find other employment on their own if you force them to be firemen every day.
You can call me a lot of things, but if you really want to piss me off refer to me as a “good guy” when speaking of me to others. As far as I am concerned that is a derogatory comment and will be treated as such. If you describe me as a good guy you will see me rapidly grab some equipment and start doing something to change your mind. Remember good guys aren’t bad people; they just don’t always belong in the fire service. Kindly help them find their passion or guide them to the door.