By Chief Sam DiGiovanna
Verdugo Fire Academy/Lexipol Consultant
As I've gotten older I look back on my career and think of all the things I've done and how fortunate I am. To this day, I thank God I'm still able to be a part of the fire service. I love it; it's so rewarding.
It occurred to me that at this point in my career, I'm caught between being a "doer" and a "dider." This, in turn, started me thinking about all those older firefighters, engineers, captains and chief officers in my organization when I was younger. These individuals did so much for our department. I looked up to them, respected some, became friends with a few. Some, of course, I thought were plain asses!
After these older firefighters retired, their significance seemed to diminish. They were now considered a "dider" and not a "doer." Funny how our society places more significance on doers. After all, what good is a dider? They have no influence; they can't write you up, promote or demote you, or make your life hell around the station. Sure, they have decades of experience and knowledge to share, but we are usually very quick to conclude that things are different now. Retirees couldn't possibly understand the issues and challenges we're facing, right? Nothing to learn from those tired war stories.
When retirees occasionally came to the fire station for coffee, we often avoided them by slipping out to the apparatus room floor, getting on the rig and leaving the station. If by chance they did catch us, we paid little if any attention to them. If we considered them one of the "mean ones," we were downright rude to them. Shame on us!
When you think about it, those who did have helped pave the road to where we stand and what we do today. They labored much harder than us for much less. They battled fierce fires, exposing themselves without the proper PPE we wear today. They also exposed themselves to the bloodborne pathogens under worse working conditions than we have today. They fought for firefighter rights — for better pay, health and retirement benefits, for safer apparatus and equipment. And they changed policies to make a safer and more equitable workplace.
Where am I going with this? With Labor Day upon us, it's a good time to remember those who did so much for us (not just in the fire service) and worked so hard to build the country we live in today.
So if you see a "dider," be a good doer. Let them know how much you appreciate them and what they did for us. Maybe you can invite them to the station and spend a little time with them. If you practice good listening skills, you might even learn something.
Have a Happy Labor Day weekend!
Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. He also is a consultant for Lexipol Fire Services.