A Bumper Story: Respecting and Learning from Each Other’s Values
By Chief John Conyn
When you are at the station, do you feel that some of the members don’t appreciate the fire service the way you do? That what you hold as hallowed means nothing to them and they do not understand your value structure? Let’s take a step back here and stop thinking of it in this way. Rather than writing it off as “I’m right” and “they’re wrong” or “us” versus “them,” think instead about how you can find a way to share this value and to better understand each other.
It is easy to get hurt or defensive when you perceive a lack of understanding from others. After all, if you are like me, you hold our craft as life itself – no second place. But this is me, and my price is too high for many. So do you only hang with those who think like you? It is far more productive to realize that people can change and learn, and that goes for both the newer members and those of us that have spent our life in the fire service.
The value of mentorship
Think about your first mentor – that person who first imparted the on-the-job know-how and helped you see through the weeds. The one that helped get you “hooked” on the job. What would he or she say to you today?
You can be that person for someone else. Your value is yours, but you can share it with others and help them develop their own sense of purpose, commitment, and passion for the fire service.
Every day we enter or leave our stations. Ask yourself both what do you bring each time and what is the latest take away you’ve learned?
It all comes back to understanding. The more we understand each other and where we are coming from, the more we can appreciate what each of us brings. Sometimes change can even occur. I think back to the great memories I have of sitting on the front bumper of a rig, from having a cup of coffee and waving to those we serve to having a heart to heart with a crewmate to post fire catch your breath, have a water, and share the pride of your crew. There are truly so many memories to share, and I’m sure you have those too.
Do you have a bumper story?
I said this recently a group of various firefighters from paid to volunteer, and they had no idea. That just drove me wild. How can they not recognize the importance of a bumper story? But then I thought, is this a moment of education, or a moment of “shut up old dude?” I have the power to share my experiences and build this passion among the newer members who have yet to develop it. I have to look at my views as a mind thought rather than a mindset. Again, my value is mine, but I can actively create an environment for growth.
The trick can be how to best share and get each other to listen. The times are changing, and yes, let’s use the generation word. Are you in this bracket or that one? Regardless, the common core or thread that runs through it all is value. Whether it is value of self, family, department, community, belief, or something else, it is what made you take that first step to walk into the station. Whether we are a rookie on our first day, a senior member with a tar-stained coffee mug, or the boss in a fresh dress shirt, all of us have that value that pushes us, at times invisible to others.
And this is why I felt so strongly about the reaction I received to the bumper tales. It was where I held value, and so much more. But reacting defensively or thinking harshly or critically of my fellow firefighters isn’t productive. Instead, this is a lesson in how we become a better example of listening to others and realizing that not everyone thinks the same way as we do, and that’s okay.
Why we choose to be firefighters
So many of us are so drunk in love with this calling we do, and anyone that doesn’t share our thought, well, you know. But let’s catch our breath. Just because some people think differently than others or don’t share the same opinion doesn’t mean either one is wrong or disrespectful. Let’s use the opportunities to get to know each other better, to share our stories and our passions, and better understand where each one is coming from and what the value is that pushes them.
Read, take a class, grow, make the good better. All those around you will see and understand your value by getting to know you or through your actions. Have this moment of reflection. Get up, think of the tale you want to share, and do it don’t let it pass.
Take care and enjoy the bumper.
John Conyn is fire chief of the Spencer (IA) Fire Department and member of the National Volunteer Fire Council.
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