Between Alarms: What is your story?
We spend a large portion of our life responding, training and being a part of the fire service. Numerous memories, good and bad, are stored in our souls. The skills we master will stick with us until we die. The relationships we build will last a lifetime. Your career in active duty won’t. That, unfortunately, has a shelf life, and the time will come for us all when we hang up our bunker gear forever.
What will be your story, your everlasting legacy? How will the community remember you? How will your brothers and sisters recall you as a firefighter and as a person?
The definition of legacy is a “gift by will especially of money or other personal property.” When it comes to a career legacy, the gift we are leaving is experience, knowledge and leadership. As you move through your career, consider every positive move you make as a gift for the next generation.
Are the habits and actions you do when no one is looking of a high ethical caliber? Do you walk the talk and lead by example? Do you care for those around you? Do you show respect to all no matter the circumstances and practice civility at the fire station?
Everyone is scripting their own perception of your legacy, and how they will remember you once you retire. It’s your goal to live up to your own standards and always be your best. Everyone leaves a legacy, but many may be remembered for only the bad. I cannot control how others perceive my own legacy, the only thing I can do is to give my best.
The fire service is more than just a 9-5 job, it’s a lifestyle and a calling. We should be willing to commit to the service and leave our footprints for others to follow. We owe it to the future recruits to help them navigate their complex careers. The story and legacy we leave behind helps build a stronger foundation within the organization.
Your legacy will often contain several factors over the length of your career, weighed differently depending on who is doing the weighing: how you treated people, how you lead yourself, what you did to improve the fire service, what you gave to your community and your experiences and knowledge (good and bad)
People may not remember if you went over budget on training, or you forgot to chock the fire truck wheels at a call. They may even forget how well you managed that complex rescue call or who was first in on that career fire. What they will remember one hundred percent is how you treated them. This is the most important legacy trait to curate. Treating people right leaves an emotional memory within them that they will carry forever. It doesn’t mean you can’t discipline someone or even get mad when warranted, it’s about being a good human being to one another.
Your members are also watching whether you walk the talk and invest in yourself? Do you take care of number one, both mentally and physically? Your authentic self is what people will notice, not how polished your speeches are. Self-leaders are growers and are continually improving themselves for the betterment of the organization. Self-leadership is not selfish unless it’s solely for their own benefit and not shared with the organization. If you are in a senior position, guaranteed your members are looking at you for guidance and a “how to” example. A very important part of self-leadership is the ability and desire to lead ethically and with high morals. When we witness unethical behaviour, we re-write their legacy script for the worse no matter how perfect their past has been. Always lead like your actions will be posted for everyone to see on Facebook.
Your legacy may also be comprised of what you gave back to the service, improved our service for our taxpayers? How did your actions help build others around you? One of the greatest gifts of being a fire chief is helping others grow and supporting their personal goals and dreams.
Your legacy reaches far and wide, throughout your community and beyond. Your community will remember seeing you out at fundraisers, community meetings, and your friendly smile at the fire station. Those we served directly due to an emergency call will remember your contribution for life.
One of the greatest ways to share your career’s highlight reels is to pass down your knowledge and stories. The narratives you display are powerful for the younger generation, especially if they have not witnessed the vast amount of life you have. New firefighters are like sponges, so ensure you pass on healthy stories, not toxic waste that pollutes their minds.
Don’t forget, all the things you learn over your career come from a mix of self-discovery and also from the abundance of knowledge and coaching you also received. There are 1440 minutes in a day; your legacy is built upon those hundreds of thousands of minutes you presented to the world. It’s a story of how you showed up each day. Your legacy depends on you between alarms and during them. It’s your call how the chronicles of you are told.
Arjuna George is the fire chief for Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue in British Columbia. He has served on the department since 1997. Contact Arjuna at email@example.com.