One day in 1982, my grandmother got off the bus and was walking home in the Hollywood Heights area of Shreveport, Louisiana. Sometimes I’d go and meet her on her way back to the house after work. I can still see her uniform – an overcoat over a white uniformed dress, white stockings and white shoes. She always had a smile on her face, no matter the time or day.
As we got closer to each other, I asked her a question: “Grandma, what is it that you do for a living?” She stopped for a second and replied, “I’m a servant to a people and someday you will be too.”
I didn’t know in that moment what she meant – and I still didn’t have an idea for many years. In fact, it wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I got my first exposure to her message for me and my life’s purpose. I had started working at the Brookshires Grocery Company. This is where I began developing the core values that have helped me become a public servant for the Shreveport Fire Department.
Each of the core values displayed below is part of our fire service tradition, history and service to the community. And in 2015, my department added this list of values to our rules and regulations.
Which of these values stand out to you? Think about what you were doing before you began you fire service career. Which core value was already stirring in the fiber of your being? This could be the initial link to why you joined the fire service.
As we review each, I’ll share my personal experience with these values, from my youth to the fire department. How do these values manifest in your fire service experience?
1. Integrity and honesty in all matters, the highest manner of trustworthiness.
As I reflect to my very first job as a grocery bagger, this building block established the ground rules for being honest by not accepting tips. The grocery company offered pay above the other local grocery companies, so there was no need to accept tips – it was a pleasure to serve the customer.
Across the world, the firefighters have an impeccable standard of being honest and displaying integrity. We must display honesty and integrity as we help individuals in their immediate time of need.
2. Professional pride in our appearance and service while adhering to strong moral and ethical conduct.
As a grocery store bagger, I was one of the first and last people with whom a customer would interact. My professional pride had to show through my appearance before I even opened my mouth for a greeting. A white long-sleeved, button shirt with a bowtie, tan khakis and a clean apron was the attire for service.
Similarly, the firefighters’ uniform has always been an iconic signal for excellence. Before a firefighter says a word, that ironed uniform, shined boots and neat hair is a symbol of the care and treatment we offer.
3. Respect displayed at all times for all citizens and coworkers up and down the chain of command.
As the grocery store entry door swung open, there was always a welcoming greeting of “Come in!” as customers arrived. This was the first show of respect – a respect that would last throughout their entire store environment.
The fire service culture must show care and respect for its community. Whether it’s during a call or in between calls, we connect the modern-day firefighter to the bucket brigade of Benjamin Franklin.
4. Positive servant attitude reflected on all incidents and interactions with the public and with coworkers.
Each grocery store had a core group of people who worked together, both during the times of economic growth and during a sustaining period when we battled other companies for the best sales.
The fire service must maintain its resilience, during times of goodwill and challenges. We have seen lately some sacrifice in equipment, jobs and pay. But even during challenging times, firefighters must continue respond to calls with a servant attitude.
5. Humility displayed by putting others needs ahead of our own.
As a grocery store bagger, I embraced the pride in making sure the customers’ needs were met. This helped me understand that placing them first, no matter how many times they came into the grocery store, helped the company succeed.
At our fire department, our citizens must come first. We must meet their needs as we encounter difficult situations, putting their needs before our own.
6. Initiative for each member to take the leading action to provide the best service and improve one’s KSAs as a firefighter.
As a bagger, keeping a clean and ready-to-go environment meant several tasks: restock displays, clean floors and hang new signs in the windows. Not being told to do these things – just doing them – creates an atmosphere of initiative.
Each firefighter has their responsibilities that they understand well. This keeps the shift running like a well-oiled machine. By being ready to go, each firefighter is prepared to take on the next challenge. This takes physical and mental initiative.
7. Consistent and fair in all our actions as leaders and followers.
Each customer at the grocery store deserved a smile, a cordial atmosphere and an overall positive experience each time they shopped with us. This consistency was rewarded with return visits, plus the monthly and yearly awards that the grocery company shared with workers.
When fire crews respond to calls, they cannot allow tunnel vision in repetitiveness of calls. Some calls may be demanding, and others may seem routine; however, being consistent and fair is important across the board.
8. Commitment to give our total best everyday: “Today I gave everything I had; what I kept I have lost forever.”
We served every customer that came into the grocery store. We knew the peak shopping times, so we pushed and adapted to keep a high commitment of service.
Fire and EMS members work tirelessly at calls. Some calls are short, others longer or more complex in nature. The commitment must remain constant no matter the call type, and that commitment must extend from the time the member first hears the call to when they physically response to it.
9. Personal courage to always do the right thing and make the right decision even though it may be unpopular.
As noted, not taking tips at the grocery store was a part of being honest and integrity. Personal courage enhances that description, as we had to consider several factors beyond whether to accept a tip for the job. We were store ambassadors.
Firefighters have a different experience with courage. For example, the Johnsons’ house is burning, and Mr. Johnson is not breathing. Firefighters take on that charge to enter the scenario with a personal courage meter on 110%. This value is at the top of the list, rooted deep inside potential members applying for this job.
10. Compassion to foster a genuine concern for those who call us and do everything we can to improve their worst day.
Carrying out groceries was important to the success of the grocery shopping experience. It was a pleasure to serve in this capacity. The compassion that was gained from the act of carrying out groceries grew more at each opportunity.
Firefighters must show compassion on every call. We want the best outcome for the situation. And we are human, so compassion is rooted deep within each of us.
11. Encouragement to build up our coworkers and make them better and feel appreciated.
There were so many teams within teams at the grocery store. The cashier would ring up the groceries, and the bagger would sack them up. It was a glorious team effort. But sometimes the teams weren’t balanced as they seem. This is where it was important to build up the newly hired, those who haven’t caught on as quickly to a routine, not to mention if someone is having a bad day and needs some assistance.
Firefighting teams depend on each other. Every scenario needs attentiveness to achieve the best outcome – from everyone on the team. There are times when a team member will need encouragement. We do this well, encouraging others within the team and helping move them forward to the best outcome.
12. Diversity of the people in our department and our community and recognizing everyone has value.
One value of being a community grocery store is you get to see and meet everyone at some time of the year. Depending on the location of the store, you can meet or work with a diverse group of individuals.
For the fire service, our communities are diverse, and fire department membership should reflect and represent this. Diversity gives the fire service as a whole the opportunity to live up to each of our core values.
13. Accountability to ourselves, each other and to our citizens by taking ownership of our actions.
Work schedules were tight back at the grocery store, but you earned your way for more hours. Showing up on time, dressed the part, and mentally ready for the shift was important to supervisors.
The fire service accountability system buries itself in the job description. Every incident shows our accountability status. The community calls us, and we are there – and we must be ready for the next call.
14. Knowledgeable to continue professional development by training and education to improve our skills in delivering the best emergency all hazards service.
As a 17-year-old who couldn’t wait to become an adult, this new adult work world was my new life. So, while facing a new set of people, job description and environment, there was a craving for “How can I do my job better?”
One of the best things in life is learning something new every day. The fire service projects learning more about the craft of being a firefighter at the highest priority, as it can be the difference between life and death. It’s essential to be knowledgeable about your fire service.
15. Teamwork in knowing we can always accomplish and perform so much better together as team.
The teamwork I mentioned earlier considered teams within teams. But there was another important factor that I realized later in my career. This was the teamwork of supervisors. Some may have seemed to just bark out directions, but they were team members, too.
Teamwork is highly beneficial to the best outcomes for each fire crew (team). Every call, we show up together. Whether it’s a small team or a complex one, teamwork makes the dream work.
16. Safety to ensure our own health as well as the safety of our team and those we serve.
As a bagger, cashier, manager, etc., safety was key and foremost – even in the grocery industry.
The same is true at the fire department. Every aspect of a call, our training and leadership begins with safety.
Ode to my grandmother – Essie B. Watson
The integrity and honesty that my grandma shared gave me a professional pride to gather the respect for others and have a positive servant attitude. The humility she shared with me was broad enough to create my initiative to be consistent and fair in my commitment to the Shreveport Fire Department. It took personal courage and compassion, along with my grandma’s encouragement and the tools of the founding initiatives from Brookshires and the diversity it offered. This allowed me to be accountable and knowledgeable to better cultivate teamwork and safety at the department.
Can you think back in your past of the core values that you received from family or previous jobs that links you to being the fire service member you are today?