How do you get a “reputation” in the fire service? Obviously there are two main types of reps a person can acquire. The good and the bad, but are either of those considered positive or negative?
I can only speak from my personal experience and base it on direct feedback I received from mostly supervisors. I had a chance in the last week to sit down and have a cup of Joe with a fire chief I used to work for.
My book has caused a lot of commotion within the department I used to work for. A lot of firefighters feel I have been telling stories out of school and are offended by what I have done. I continued to hear through the informal communication system of firefighters that the chief was in fact very upset.
After hearing this repeatedly I figured I should email him and see if he wanted to get together and talk. He agreed to meet with me at a local coffee shop and chat. No small thing for a busy executive of a large city to take time out of his work day to talk to me.
I was flattered he would give me his time. We started with pleasant catch-up conversation about what I’m doing and what he was doing, kids, family, and friends. There was no rush to cover the book, but we did finally arrive at the topic. I hadn’t considered or viewed my tome from his perspective as the head of a city department that consumes a quarter of the city’s budget.
He felt my stories could be seen by his bosses as an excuse to change his budget. If the firefighters were that big a bunch of screw offs why were they getting paid so much? Now I don’t think half of his bosses are literate enough to comprehend my work, but that is just my opinion.
We settled on disagreeing, he didn’t like what I had done and I felt no one would really notice. Here is where my reputation came into play. The chief shared with me that he had numerous firefighters stop by his office outraged by my book. One he said was red-faced and spitting with each word he uttered.
To my amazement the chief told me how he had allowed most to get it out of their system and then added his point of view. Which was that I hadn’t lied, that the things I recount actually happened, that as an organization we had participated in this kind of conduct, and the vast majority of it happened more than 25 years ago.
Then he added that some of the complainers had never done the things I had done in my career. He told me that what he remembered of my time on the job was that I was one of the best he had ever worked with.
He remembered the two of us being in a fire one time, a hell of a fire. We were surrounded by flames deep in the building and I was pulling ceiling with a hook. He said I was just covered head to toe in debris and working my ass off trying to find the seat of the fire.
He recounted how he had thought it was time for us to get out, but because of what I was doing he knew we could stay and be alright. He felt that if he had to go into a nasty fire he wanted me with him.
He also shared how if his own mother had ever gotten sick or injured I was the paramedic he wanted there to take care of her or his family. How whenever we had a critical patient that I was always pushing past others to get in there and take some one’s life in my hands without hesitating. My reputation for doing the job was one of the best, but he reminded me that if all it depended on was ability to do the job I would have been fine.
As an executive he had to consider all the other aspects of Tim Casey. I was unpredictable, disrespectful, and insubordinate on the job. I challenged authority at every turn, and that many officers wouldn’t take me on their crews because of my attitude.
What he said was fair and the truth, I did struggle with authority especially from some twenty five year old kid with a bugle on his collar. I was a left over from a past generation and hadn’t transitioned well into the new customer service oriented fire service.
Off work I had relapsed on alcohol and gotten myself in some serious trouble. He could have terminated me after my last drunken adventure; instead the administration had decided to carry me to my 25th anniversary date and allow me to retire with full benefits and honors.
He felt that some of my detractors had never done the job I did and never would. That they preferred to work in a less busy firehouse, and had probably never been in the shit and never would be.
But I was a quirky bastard and my skills didn’t outweigh my liabilities and that as an executive in the modern fire service firefighters like me couldn’t be kept. The job had changed like all jobs change, it had become politically correct, and diversified which was fine with me I know how the world works.
I asked him if remembered all the different chiefs we had worked for over the years, he said sure he remembered them all. Then I asked him if he knew where any of them were and what they were doing now.
He had to think for a moment, and then confessed he really didn’t know what any of them were doing. So just like me and those other men, he would retire soon as well, and quickly fade into the past.
Because once you are out of the club, you are forgotten and that is the truth. The next recruit will take your place and the job will roll on just as it always has.