Between Alarms: Learning lessons from firefighters’ best friend

Learning lessons from firefighters' best friend
April 11, 2008
Written by Vern Elliott
Firefighter lore is teeming with stories of animals and pets. From the firehall dog to a variety of animal rescues, we are often identified with animals. I have had the pleasure of meeting a great number of firefighter dogs and have realized that these animals are an important element of our lives. We can learn some valuable lessons from our canine counterparts.
vernelliottFirefighter lore is teeming with stories of animals and pets. From the firehall dog to a variety of animal rescues, we are often identified with animals. I have had the pleasure of meeting a great number of firefighter dogs and have realized that these animals are an important element of our lives. We can learn some valuable lessons from our canine counterparts.

• Take a walk when you can. This one goes without saying, firefighters need exercise and one of the best ways to do this is by simply taking a walk. The physical and mental benefits are well documented. 

• Loyalty is king. In our line of work, there is a lot riding on what we do every day. We have to trust and be trusted by our coworkers and the public. Take a look, every day we have to be yielding to someone or something. How we handle this loyalty is important.

• Don’t bite when a simple growl will do. This mainly applies to officers but can apply to just about everyone. I admit that I have been the supervisor in charge when things went unexpectedly wrong on the fire ground. I simply lost it     when a firefighter with basic training could not do a Storz connection because a cap was in place. First, I berated him on the spot, connected the hose and walked away in frustration. I realized that I looked like a fool for losing my cool and embarrassing a worker on the fire ground. All I had to do was quickly help him and deal with it later in a better atmosphere.

• No matter how many times you are criticized, don’t pout, run back. Humans, just like dogs, make mistakes. Learn from these errors and become a better firefighter. Do not hold anything against those who recognized and possibly corrected your error.

• Don’t show weakness. This is primarily for rookies during day-to-day operations but can apply to everyone. Just like a hungry wolf pack, your buddies can turn on you in a second. Just remember that if you are sensitive about certain things be careful how you let it be known. 

• Show weakness. On the other hand, if you are having a difficult time with something then let someone know. I am not an expert in critical incident stress disorders or psychology but from experience, letting others know when you need help, and letting them help you, can be a powerful tool.

• When someone is having a bad day, sit by, be silent and listen. Firefighters solve problems by nature. When someone talks to us, our instincts kick in and we immediately start thinking about a solution. Firefighters will see the best and worst of society so be prepared to deal with problems. 

• The other side of this is the person you don’t want to be anywhere near when they lose it. You must become invisible to escape the wrath; dogs are masters at this.

• Dig to find the things you want. This applies to how you handle your career aspirations, find food in the station fridge, find equipment for special circumstances, and perform a rescue. Never give up and always know that if you don’t find what you are looking for in that hole you can always dig yourself another.

• When you are hot, drink lots of water and sit in the shade. I have nothing to add here except that we sometimes do forget this one.

• Nap when you can and be sure to spin three times around your bed before lying down.  We all need sleep and studies show that most of us don’t get enough. Remember the old adage “A firefighter is bored 98 per cent of the time only to be interrupted with pure terror.”  When the call comes you should be rested, so when the station duties are done, or you are done that last medical call, lie down. Spinning three times allows you to make sure that no one has placed flour, icing sugar, itching powder, a CPR dummy, air horn, IV fluid, ironing board, mouse trap or any other item in your bed.

Eat and live like it is your first and last day. This is probably the most important thing we can learn from dogs. There is nothing like watching a pup eat, play and enjoy all aspects of its existence no matter what is happening. Remember that we, as firefighters, are going to get frustrated once in awhile because someone did not take due care. As long as you know that you have something to look forward to, then what is the big deal?

Hope you enjoy these and will maybe think about a couple of them once in a while. Some of them you have read and heard before; sorry, but all dogs pretty much do the same thing – that is the great thing about them, consistency. It goes without saying that most of these are common sense items but sometimes the simplest things in life are the ones we are most likely to forget. Lastly, I would like to dedicate this to Java, a choco-late lab who loved visiting station #3 and provided a lifetime of memories.

Vern Elliott has 14 years’ experience in emergency services in municipal and industrial departments as a firefighter/paramedic. He works with Strathcona County Emergency Services in Alberta.

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