04/19/10 140 W - + 6 - 9 Generational Change?

Discussion topic for the day, expanding from that thought balloon from DJ that escaped onto his keyboard and into a blog comment. What happens when younger workers replace older workers in emergency services? What's gained, what's lost? What's effected administratively, operationally? How do things look from the Big Chief's chair, down to the dinner table on shift? And, what sort of knowledge transfer can be done, to preserve what the veterans know?

On that last point, I have done a bit musing. Many know that I record oral histories of retired and retiring Raleigh firefighters. Is that a format that's valid for retaining long-gained knowledge? Perhaps. Or is something more technological a better idea? What about an internal Wiki for an agency? A peer-created and peer-edited online encyclopedia, which seems perfect for such a purpose. What say you?

What’s gained is youthful exuberance and, most likely, better physical fitness, at least from the career perspective. Take into account that most career departments are using the CPAT or a modified version of that test for the physical agility portion of their entrance requirements. We know that cardiac issues are the leading cause of death for FFs, so the general thought is becoming, more and more, “we need healthier recruits”. That is a good thing. I don’t know what other departments do, but when I was a volunteer member of career Washington (NC) Fire Rescue in the late 90s, the city encouraged and gave time for the FFs to exercise for an hour to start every shift day. Granted, there wasn’t any kind of equipment to do so at the time, but it was common to see the shift members walking in a group around the station. The PD (for which I was an officer in the same time frame) gave us an hour every shift to exercise, although it was difficult to find the time to do it while at work.

What’s lost, unless it’s passed down to the new generation, is tradition. You find that more in career departments and in larger volunteer stations, I suppose. I was part of two volunteer departments (Beaufort and Pitt Counties) in succession, and really was not given firefighter traditions, such as symbolism and ceremony, along with terms, etc., by the veterans because it was just not done. I think that as part of the agrarian basis of many rural volunteer departments, especially in the south, tradition was not really given as a lot of departments sprung up as a result of farmers that just needed to protect their lives and livelihoods. I think if you go to municipal departments, especially those in the north, you get a larger sense of community and history and tradition.

As far as administrative and operational effect, departments seem to be getting further away from “how we’ve always done it” and, with older members retiring and more progressive folks assuming higher-echelon roles, we’re seeing more progressive ways of doing our jobs. We also have a larger focus on education, meaning more departments are putting an emphasis on fire science degrees. With pub-ed an ever-increasing need, FLSE certifications are being sought on an unprecedented basis. When I started in the fire service in 1996, it was tough to find an instructor sometimes. Now it seems like it’s tough to find enough classes to give all the instructors out there.

That’s probably just the tip of the iceberg, but that’s what I see going on.
Duda - 04/23/10 - 15:24

Duda made some pretty good points. Now coming up in the 70s and 80s I was fortunate enough to be around some folks who brought a degree of tradition to the jobs. In Maryland in the mid 90s I saw a lot of tradition being passed along to younger generations.

I think you will see a more progressive group of folks in leadership roles but after a while it will level out, much like it did before my time. The folks that we now consider to be “outdated” today were the progressives of my generation.

What I do see now, rather, what I lament now, is the reliance on technology by a lot of the younger folks. I really see it in my job, I guess, more so than maybe my firefightin’ brethren. I see so many people that cannot do an assessment without a pulse oximeter. Don’t get me wrong, the technology helps, but let it fail (as it is prone to do, more often than many will admit), and everyone starts breathing real fast, sweating, and wondering what to do.

I have seen a greater reliance on ‘book smarts’ and ‘online education’ as opposed to ‘street smarts’ and ‘hands on education’. In practical terms, I know people right now who can read a 12-lead ECG at 50 yards but can’t assess a patient staring them in the face.

But you know, it is no different now than it was when the ‘progressives’ of my day won out over the ‘traditionalists’ of my day. And the time before that. And the time before that.
DJ - 04/24/10 - 13:54

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