Sincerity vs. Competency

By: Christopher Brennan

Why do you choose to wear a firefighter’s badge? Have you chosen this vocation to serve your neighbors, or because you want to be perceived as someone “special” or “important”? Do you choose to risk your life out of a sense of service, or have you chosen this “job” because of the opportunity to make a good living and have the security of a career service job?

If we look to the history of firefighting many of our brothers and sisters have chosen to don a helmet and pull up their boots out of a passion to serve their community and protect their neighbors from the effects of unrestrained fire. However as far back of the vigilies of Rome we know that men became Centurions or Prefects (the leadership positions in the Roman military units) in the cohorts vigilum because of the opportunity it presented to advance into higher service in imperial bureaucracy or the Praetorian Guard (the Emperor’s personal guard and police force). I am of the opinion that people come to the Fire Service for three primary reasons: belief in the mission of “Saving lives and protecting property”, financial rewards, or as a demonstration of value. The fact of the matter is that none of us usually choices a vocation for a single reason, but rather for a combination of reasons. What is your primary reason for wanting to be a firefighter though?

Belief in our mission is undoubtedly the primary motivator for most men and women who chose to take up the vocation of firefighting be they career, paid-on-call, part-time, or volunteer. While it may seem that financial rewards, such as are enjoyed by those of us in career and paid part-time departments would be the second likely motivator I don’t think that is the case. Out of one and a half million firefighters in the United States the membership in the International Association of Firefighters is roughly 300,000. As a quick assessment that means that roughly 1.2 million men and women join the fire service for something other than financial security. That has to mean that the second most common reason people join the fire service is for the demonstration of value.

When I speak of “demonstration of value” I am talking about the guy or gal who has joined the fire service to carry a badge, be viewed as “special” by their friends or neighbors, or because they want to be a “hero”. I am hesitant to use the word Hero to apply to anyone who has joined the fire service to try and impress people, which is why I put it in quotes and won’t capitalize it. Now, I am not going to even begin to estimate just how many people join the fire service as a means of gaining the respect and admiration of their friends and neighbors, but I can say with certainty that it is far too many.

What this all comes down to is the need to understand that sincerity is no replacement for competency.

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