Being part of a fire and rescue service has provided me with many opportunities to develop relationships.
Some relationships in the fire service have been with service colleagues, whilst others have been with people I have worked in partnership with or community members whom we serve.
Some relationships have been purely professional, whilst others are at a more personal level. Some have been short lived, and others have developed into lifelong friendships.
Training course bonds
Similar to many people, some of my strongest and longest lasting friendships are with people I did my initial training with and with people from the first Watch I served on.
My training course was a 16 week residential programme. Sixty trainee firefighters were all in the same position of being exposed to a physically and mentally demanding environment.
Success required us all to work as a team, an ethos which underpins a career in the fire service, whatever level you are working at.
Everyone brought different skills, knowledge and experience to the course and sharing this was all part of the relationship building. Lifelong friendships developed as we helped each other at times when fellow team members struggled. There were also more relaxing times; playing sports or out socialising, which further contributed to the relationship building.
The Watch ‘family’
I found that this supportive environment continued as I joined ‘blue watch’. Experienced firefighters took me ‘under their wing’ to ensure I learnt the skills necessary for me to become part of the watch family. The ‘older hands’ were assuming a paternal role within the family, which I very much appreciated. The word ‘family’ is regularly used to describe the watch-based culture.
“As in life, families are all different and all watches I have experienced during a 30 year career are different too.”
Some socialise together regularly as a group, whilst others have smaller groups who share common interests and who socialise together.
Some watches embrace wider families into the social arena, with partners being included in social events. As with most families, there are individuals who do not ‘get on’ and who will never be best friends.
That said, loyalty is paramount. When working in arduous and potentially dangerous conditions, it is imperative that everyone has trust in his or her colleagues to be able to do their job properly, as any mistakes can put lives at risk.
On a daily basis we literally trust our team mates with our lives. That is a very powerful basis for a relationship and is regularly identified as one of the major strengths of the fire service.
When ‘colleague’ becomes ‘boss’
For those, like myself who seek promotion as part of their career path, the watch-based culture can present unusual challenges. Becoming the leader of a team I had previously been a member of was a strange situation for all involved.
Team members were uncertain about whether or not the relationship would change. Some people acted as if nothing had changed, whilst others were more reserved, waiting to see how things develop. The one thing that is certain is that the relationship does change, from a professional perspective at least.
How this impacts on an existing personal relationship depends upon the strength of that relationship and the characters of the individuals involved. The leader must recognise that the role, including the responsibility for ensuring that the team carry out their duties to protect the community is the overriding priority.
“My approach to leadership is to be fair and honest with everyone at all times.”
There can be no favouritism displayed towards friends and nor should the opposite occur in an effort to prevent accusations of favouritism.
Fairness and honesty, together with commitment to the role should be appreciated and respected by most reasonable people.
If an individual previously thought of as a friend does not appreciate such an approach to leadership, then I would question if that person was worthy of my friendship.
Relationships within the fire service family are undoubtedly interesting and can, at times, be challenging.
Looking forward, I believe that, as the family becomes more diverse, with people joining the family from different backgrounds, with different skills and experience, then such relationships will become even more powerful and fulfilling.