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Editor’s pick 2014: From the Floor – September

I was flipping through Twitter and found an article on Xbox firefighters, a term that describes 20- to 30-year-olds who are not respectful, and, apparently, were raised with video-game consoles in their hands.

August 26, 2014 
By Jay Shaw

I was flipping through Twitter and found an article on Xbox firefighters, a term that describes 20- to 30-year-olds who are not respectful, and, apparently, were raised with video-game consoles in their hands.

There are cultural differences between the 1960s post-war era firefighters who trained our fire-service leaders, and the firefighters we have hired in the last 10 years. Many of our chiefs were trained and mentored by old-school, paramilitary, by-the-book type of firefighters. So when an Xbox firefighter comes to the hall with tattoos, piercings, a smartphone and a wrongfully perceived lack of respect, it gets guys talking about how it used to be, and why we need to change the way we do things.

I agree, but I beg to differ on who needs to change. Our fire-service leaders need to learn to motivate the recruits. This is our problem, but we did not create it. This cultural paradigm shift snuck up on us and put Xboxs in the fire station, CrossFit in the gyms, pink fire trucks on the floor, and Movember on our faces.

It is not just the fire-service recruit who is changing, rather the pool of all workers. School systems have changed, young adults have changed, and so have children. Sports teams have embraced inclusion; my 13-year-old son won a ribbon for sixth place in a track meet; you’re number six, so lets go to Boston Pizza and celebrate your awesomeness! What the heck are we doing?


For more than a decade, we have been helicopter parenting, protecting kids from the boogey man and the white-van rapist all at once, while telling them to explore the world and have fun, just wear your helmet, sweetie! We’ve created a society of young adults who expect to be great without hard work. We are accepting workers who may not have the coping skills to survive when some boss tells them they screwed up. But wait, my mom told me I was special, I did my best!

We tell our kids they can be anything they want if they try hard and get good grades, but this parental programming is void of some basic life skills. Today’s firefighters feel entitled because they were raised that way, not because they are trying to tick us off. Very few twentysomethings have fallen flat on their faces. So when they enter the hall and can’t figure out why we don’t think they’re awesome, they get flustered, and they don’t know how to take a veteran calling them out for being quiet or unable to communicate. Remember, that new recruit may play video games for four days straight when not at work, sleep till 2 p.m., stay up until 4 a.m., go to the gym while doing some vegetable cleanse, and probably communicates 95 per cent of his or her conversations via text. And we wonder why the rookie can’t talk to a patient or work unsupervised for more than five minutes.

Young adults, in the absence of controlled leadership, will follow cultural norms. If we are not parenting young firefighters through great leadership strategies, who is? What behavior do we want? We just can’t complain about the new recruit’s work ethic, then throw em’ an atta-boy because he’s the only one who can figure out the TV remote.

Individuality is a powerful expression of self-worth. When you strip that away and streamline everyone into the same firefighter mould, you have a problem if you’re not filling the void with the culture and organizational systems in which you wish them to work.

This is a generalization, as many recruits come from a pedigree of hard work. But just as fast as the newest gaming console becomes obsolete, the types of applicants to the fire service change.

Mentorship is the solution – instilling values, principles and a detailed plan for expected outcomes. We should identify high-performing peers through recommendations or hall votes.  These mentors can be paired with rookies to make sure they understand what is expected of them. We need top-down solutions that form the policies and values we want to instill; we need to work on the hiring processes and initial training of recruits that support the top-down approach. Finally, we need some kind of mentoring in the middle so that crews can support and instill something to follow. If we don’t do this, we risk the herd following anything that may appear shiny and 3D-like and we may be be handing out last-place medals at the house fire when everyone is too special to do any work. But of course you’ll have to text the medals digitally to your recruit, and don’t forget the smiley face icon – you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Jay Shaw is Firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg. Contact him at and on Twitter

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