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Another Voice: Making the cut as a firefighter requires both training and discipline

By James LaMacchia

In the Buffalo Fire Department training program, recruits are given a set of “Rules and Regulations Governing Fire Recruits” on their first day during orientation. These rules and regulations spell out what is expected of them throughout their 12-week training. They are there to ensure that every recruit abides by the same rules and performs up to the standards set by the Fire Department and New York State.

It’s a uniform standard that is an integral part of any paramilitary organization. But there is a much more important aspect to obeying these rules and regulations than just being shaven on a daily basis.

These standards instill discipline, respect for rank and the ability to follow orders under duress.

If a recruit won’t follow even the simplest of orders every day during training, he surely will be less likely to be disciplined once he graduates. On the fire ground during emergency operations, failure to follow orders may result in the injury or death of firefighters and civilians alike. Discipline is instilled for a reason: It saves lives.

Firefighting training is intentionally pressure-packed and rightfully so. If a recruit cannot perform efficiently and effectively under the pressure of a training class in a controlled environment, then how can he be expected to perform when he is standing in front of a house ablaze with a frantic mother screaming at him to save her child?

The fact of the matter is that there are professions that not all persons are able to perform. I don’t care how many times your mother said, “Honey, you can be anything you want to be.” The truth is that not everyone has the discipline, intestinal fortitude or the ability mentally, psychologically or physically to perform as a firefighter. That’s just the way it is.

When an individual finally jumps through all the hoops required even to get an opportunity to train to be a firefighter, it still remains just that – an opportunity. From that point, recruits are educated, tested and evaluated both mentally and physically in a comprehensive and progressive program that promotes decision-making and the ability to perform under pressure. They still need to follow all the rules, work extremely hard and, if they’ve got the right stuff, they’ll be rookie firefighters at graduation. Eventually they may become a “good firefighter” (the highest compliment paid from one firefighter to another), but only once they’ve proven themselves to their superiors and, most importantly, their peers.

In this new world of everyone being offended by one thing or another and people having an unrealistic sense of entitlement, it all boils down to this: Firefighting isn’t tee ball and not everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season.

James LaMacchia is the retired chief of training for the Buffalo Fire Department.