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Flashpoint: Bring your kid to work (every) day

I have just filled out all the forms for “bring your kid to work day” so that my 13-year-old daughter can spend the day seeing what daddy does.

My kids have been to enough Fire Prevention Week events and Fire Academy open houses to have formed a pretty good picture of the active end of fire fighting.

November 17, 2008
By Peter Sells

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I have just filled out all the forms for “bring your kid to work day” so that my 13-year-old daughter can spend the day seeing what daddy does.

My kids have been to enough Fire Prevention Week events and Fire Academy open houses to have formed a pretty good picture of the active end of fire fighting. In fact, all kids are exposed through the media and our own public education efforts to the big red trucks, breathing apparatus and fire hoses.

The part that would come as a surprise, or perhaps a disappointment, to them is the routine end of the business. Just as a firefighter would not play up the thrill of cleaning washrooms and making beds in the fire hall, I don’t recall ever telling rollicking tales of maintaining training records, proofreading documents or conducting performance appraisals.

And of course, those are not the things we are going to do on my daughter’s visit. We are going to focus on the fun stuff and I am going to enjoy the interest she shows in my career.

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Not that I expect her to follow in the old man’s footsteps necessarily, but as she makes her own career choices it is important that she understands what having a job is all about.

Don’t we all bring our work home to our kids on a regular basis? When something interesting happens, don’t we share that when we get home? “Hey, guess what? They filmed a TV commercial at the Academy today”, or “One of our new firefighters is on the Canadian Olympic beach volley-ball team.” These are attempts to involve our kids in what we do, to make our working world be of interest to them. But I think we have all been bringing our kids to work in other ways all along.

We bring our kids to work when we interact with the public. We deal with people of all ages during their most vulnerable moments, when they are injured, trapped, scared or distraught. The care and compassion we show during those encounters is drawing on our parental programming. We have the power and the responsibility to help the helpless and we are compelled to exercise that power by our moral character and our professionalism. The relationship that we are in at those moments is the same relationship we have with our kids when they are very young – we have total control and they are completely dependant on us. By instinctively bringing our kids to work we are managing the human side of the situation so that the technical side, whether it be fire suppression or auto extrication, can proceed
most effectively.

When our kids are a little older and become less dependent on our constant attention, our role becomes that of a teacher, mentor and role model. We bring this aspect of parenting to work in our roles as trainer, officer and leader. Make yourself available to the more junior members of your team. Observe their work, offering assistance whenever it is needed and praise whenever it is warranted.  Correct and direct in constructive ways, giving respect for the effort and the individual. Know, just as a parent should know, that you are also under constant observation. Your behaviours, the words you say and the things you do, are more important in patterning the behaviours of your team members than the lessons taught in classrooms and drill sessions. Bring your kids to work in this way, by remembering that you are looked up to.

When we treat ourselves with respect, when we work safely and responsibly, we are bringing our kids to work. We don’t want to bring home any diseases, so we practise proper infection control precautions during patient care. We want to be able to enjoy our time with our kids, so we do whatever we can to avoid sprained ankles and broken wrists. Bring your kids to work by fastening your seatbelt. Bring your kids to work by using your SCBA during overhaul.

Bring your kids to work by doing up all the straps, wearing your flash hood, adhering to the accountability system and stopping at red lights. Bring your kids to work by making sure you will be there to see them graduate from college, walk them down the aisle and play peek-a-boo with your grandchildren.

My younger daughter zinged me a couple of days ago with this question: “Why did you want to become a firefighter in the first place? Isn’t it kinda’ stupid to run into a burning building? I mean, if someone tells you ‘be careful, the soup is hot’ you don’t just stick your face right into it.” I’ll be bringing this kid to work each time I repeat that line.

District Chief Peter Sells writes, speaks and consults on fire service management and professional development across North America and internationally. He holds a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the University of Windsor.  He sits on the advisory councils of the Ontario Fire College and the Institution of Fire Engineers Canada Branch.


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