Starting on Solid Ground: Advice for New Fire Service Members

Reprinted from the 2024 issue of Firefighter Strong

For those just beginning the fire service journey, the path ahead can seem daunting. Seeking advice and assistance from mentors and those with more experience can help ease the adjustment and form a solid foundation for what is to come. With that spirit in mind, we asked instructors from the 2024 NVFC Training Summit to provide their best tips, advice, and words of wisdom to those starting out in the fire  service.

Joe Maruca
Retired Chief of the West Barnstable (MA) Fire Department
“You must like people and like helping people. It’s not about you.”

Bill Hopson
Captain with the Beachwood (NJ) Fire Department
“It is important to never lose sight of why you applied in the first place. You cannot become a trusted, 20-year veteran overnight, without getting through day 1, month 1, and year 1. If you do not accept and buy into this occupation and lifestyle on day 1, you are wasting everyone’s time, mostly your own. This is a calling that not everyone can answer.”

Brian McQueen
Past chief of the Whitesboro (NY) Fire Department
“The future of our fire service lies within our current ranks at both the officer and firefighter level. These firefighters have so much to offer that if their knowledge, skills, and techniques are untapped, we are failing our department. Your future leader search within your department starts when that new recruit walks in the door. Don’t waste an opportunity.”

Timothy Cowan
Deputy Fire Chief with the Dewitt (NY) Fire District
“Never stop learning. Always be a student of the fire service. The day you think you have learned everything is the time to retire and move on from the fire service. The fire service has changed more in the past 20 years than it has in the past 150 years. In order to keep up with the changing technology, you must never stop learning.”

John Oates
President and CEO of the International Public Safety Data Institute
“My advice is:

  1. From the book/movie We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, learn your position and become proficient in that role. Once you have accomplished that, teach your role to the person below you; learn the position of the person above you. This is (partially) how we pass along organizational history and knowledge.
  2. Do not stop learning. There is so much that encompasses the work of firefighting that it is impossible to learn everything. Become knowledgeable in as much as you can. Become proficient; but there is no expectation (nor is it possible) to become expert in all. Challenge yourself with things that you find difficult or out of your normal area of comfort.
  3. Live up to ‘always remember/never forget.’ If your department has suffered a line-of-duty death any time in its history, you MUST know that person’s name, what happened, and how/why/if the department made improvements to prevent it from ever happening again. PS: When was the last time someone had contact with that family?
  4. Quiet confidence and calm in the face of extreme events is built by knowledge and training. Read, learn, practice.
  5. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.

Jan Spence, CSP
International speaker, author, and consultant
“As a new recruit in the fire service, it can often be intimidating when rubbing elbows with seasoned veterans. To ensure a successful start to your new role, I encourage you to ‘lean in’ to get to know your fellow station members on a personal level. For example, rather than just showing up for training or your shift, be intentional about making extra time to learn more about your teammates. Visit the station off-hours, bringing your favorite homemade dish, sharing a new card game, or even just to talk on-on-one and to listen and learn from your peers. Investing this time will be a great return as they know more about you and you know more about them. It’s simple, just be intentional about making deeper connections.

Alisa Arnoff
Founding member of Scalambrino & Arnoff
“It all starts with YOU – make me proud that I am in the community you serve.”