“Jack of all trades, master of none.”
This two-part phrase—according to the well-respected Wikipedia—was actually two separate statements that were joined together. It can mean a person who is competent in many skills but not highly skilled in any.
It can also mean a person who is a generalist, someone who is knowledgeable in many disciplines and can bring the skills and abilities from each together in a practical way.
This second definition very much defines the base of knowledge and skills required for being a competent firefighter. The people we serve and the people we serve with deserve firefighters who are prepared to respond to emergencies with the abilities to handle a wide array of problems; almost anytime someone dials 911, they’ll be the ones expected to solve the problem presented.
This expectation is why we should always be responding to incidents or training to respond to incidents.
One question I’ve heard over the years is about how prevention, community events and maintenance fit into this training-or-responding model. I believe they are all part of the preparation for responding to emergencies, so there’s no conflict of mission by including them as part of our training-to-respond plan.
Company officers and battalion chiefs have a tough assignment; they must make sure their crews are well trained and prepared to fulfill those other “duties as assigned” because they’re equally important.
Because our mission has grown to include almost any type of response that can be imagined, just preparing for them—baseline—is a challenge. But because the demand from our communities for excellence in preparation and response is so high, we also need teams prepared beyond the baselines.
These teams include response for tactical medics (to support law-enforcement SWAT teams), hazmat, technical rescue, USAR, swift water, bomb squads and investigations. I probably have missed a few but you get the idea. Each of these specialties requires mountains of additional training and preparation, but try not being prepared or having a plan to get help in these areas and see the backlash from community members when they need one of these teams.
Add the challenge of budget cutbacks and reduction of staff without lowering the public’s expectations for response and preparation, and we can understand the difficulties we’re faced with. The fire chief needs to show elected officials these challenges so they can understand we aren’t just trying to get or maintain a large share of the budget; we’re trying to provide the service expected by our community.
To do this, we need to use every opportunity to show them what we know. No one can do this for us, so like our well-trained crews, we must be prepared for this challenge.
We are the Jacks of all trades, but expected to be masters of all.
Chief Al H. Gillespie, EFO, CFO, MIFireE
President and Chairman of the Board