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A Letter to My 24 Year Old Rookie Self

Dear Diane,

Congrats on your recent appointment to firefighter! What an exciting time for you. I know how hard you worked to prepare mentally and physically for a career in the fire service.

The fire service is a selfless profession, and you will be serving the community and helping people when they have exceeded their ability to handle their problems. Remember, this career is a calling that many are not able to answer. 

This profession is noble and courageous, and you now have a seat at the table. 

While there are so many items I want to discuss with you today, I will focus on the gifts you bring to the fire service.

First, let’s address the elephant in the room. 

YOU. ARE. NOT. ONE. OF. THE. GUYS. I know that I am stating the obvious, but you are entering into a male-dominated profession. And the most crucial piece of advice that I can give you is to remain true to yourself, be you, embrace being different, and never compromise who you are to fit in. You are on the job because you offer the world, your community, and your organization a unique and diverse skillset.

You will find that most men and women in this profession are welcoming and excited to guide you on your career. Most of your mentors are going to be white males. Learn from them, absorb their knowledge, and keep those tools in your toolbox for use throughout your career. You will also meet incredible women along the way who have cracked a lot of doors in this profession, respect what they have done, and continue to open the doors in front of you.

Second, you are not going to be as strong as some of the guys.

You will have to learn to use your body to complete the same tasks that seem to come quickly for some of the guys. Work with a purpose and train to become efficient at the skills required of your job. When the public or your fellow firefighters question you about your ability, let your actions speak for you. 

Remain fit and take care of yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually. You have a long career ahead of you, and you need to take care of your body, eat well, lift heavy, splurge on the massages, do yoga, and cut back on the alcohol. Start building your tribe of trusted confidants that you can empty your cup to when it fills up.

Sadly, you will be exposed to the sights and smells of horrible things. These calls will become ghosts in your closets. Everyone in public service has them, and you must make space for these ghosts and have a plan to make peace with them so they don’t overrun your life. Reach out to get professional help when you need it, and as you grow in your career, you will be able to help others that you work with to deal with their ghosts. 

Third, you will fail, and you will survive. 

Failure is part of life, and through your failures, you will grow, learn, and be better, stronger, and wiser. You will not always receive the grace of imperfection that your brothers receive, but failing means that you are trying. I promise you that you will survive 100% of your bad days; that is why you have your support system in place to catch you when you fall.

Like the honorable Judge Pratt says, “Failure is just an event, it is not a characteristic.”

And why we are talking about failure, let’s touch on your personal life really quick. This profession will affect your relationships in some form or fashion. When you are tired, your fuse is short, missed holidays, birthdays, and the lack you want to share about the stuff you see will be tough to talk about with your non-fire people. This is normal; be sure to build a tribe of people to talk to so you don’t have to carry the load alone.

You are amazing, and don’t let anyone tell you or treat you differently. 

And lastly, regardless of what rank you hold or position you to ride on the rig, you can lead. 

You can lead through your actions, questions, skills, and being humble. Don’t go along to get along and try to fit in with the guys by accepting less than equal treatment. Try not to shy away from difficult conversations regarding race or gender. Don’t let other people tell your story or take your inventory. Control your narrative.

Have fun, be safe, SLEEP, wear your mask, treat yourself, your sister and brother firefighters, and the community you serve well, never stop learning, push your comfort zone, and always do what is best for the community and the organization. 



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