Generations in the Workforce: Culture and Values

By Mark Rivero

In the current way of life as a first responder, firefighter, emergency medical provider, and emergency management person, we are always looking at station life as our family. How does the family of multiple generations really get along in the station? On emergency scenes we all know what to do and actually do a good job at the scene. We are battling the fires and saving property and lives but, how do we function back at the station?

Older generations would simply go back to the station and find the allotted area to have a cigarette or cigar and talk about the call that they just returned from. The newer generations that are prohibited from tobacco products on the job for various reasons are not privileged to that relief factor after the calls. So, what do we do in today’s world for relief when the culture for one of many things has changed? In the so-called old days, the remote part of their station was a center for teaching the newer firefighters and medics the lessons or establish the values of being a public servant.

Those values are still present and just as valuable today as they were thirty years ago. When we discuss values, we need to understand that values are what makes up the person or persons within the arena of public safety. Values are created from good and bad experiences and can be mentioned in multiple ways and definitions are going to be different among each individual. Older generations may tell you that the most important value is discipline whereas the newer generation may see discipline in a totally different capacity. 

In training, we are taught to be disciplined in the manner in which we don and doff our bunker gear and that prior to entering a burning building we need to ensure that our partner as our self is fully donned and ready to fight fire. Firefighters in the United States are well qualified and do a great job. But station life is where we differ and occasionally experience a cultural shift. Often, we hear that the East Coast fights fire better than the West Coast, or that Volunteers are the backbone of the nation’s fire service. Well, in the culture of the fire service there will always be a conversation on who is the best. That is our culture! Looking at culture, what is really the one thing that stands out is the simplest thing we all do as taught, young and old, and its discipline. Despite the political ideologies, what happens when the bells or tones go off? We become team members to get the task at hand complete and safely return to our station. 

The station is our home for a great period of our lives, 1/3 if working shifts sometimes more on the volunteer side. Our culture of station life extends to our culture of home life. This is where we ask ourselves, do we expect the same disciple at home as we do at work? How does the first responder act at home and also is it at work? Do we need to examine our personal life and actions to see if we have a balance of work and home life? What is interesting with generations in the workforce while at the station, the older personnel may experience some challenges of understanding the younger personnel simply because of the ability to utilize computers and technology. 

In simple terms we, as the older generation, are intimidated by technology and how fast it changes. What needs to be done on the technological cultural shift is bring that kid into the cigar corner and have them introduce the new “stuff.” Once this is experienced, we go back and have that learning moment in which the rookie is now accepted, and the veteran is willing to see exactly what so intriguing about that handheld computer that also has a cell phone application on it. That my friends are one of many cultural changes that have value in our world.             

Mark Rivero worked for the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, Fire and Rescue until 2011, as firefighter, training officer and ultimately professional development officer, creating degree pathways for fire service personnel. He currently serves as a program advisor/site coordinator for Southern Illinois University and as chairperson for the doctoral degree path committee for professional development at the National Fire Academy. Rivero also works with the American Council on Education, reviewing fire service courses at various institutions across the United States. He received his doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2004.

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