Playing the Game

When I was beginning to mentor and guide my son, Junior, in his pursuit of a firefighting career, I explained to him that his success in becoming a professional firefighter would be in part dependent on him knowing the “rules to the game”. As a young African American male, I knew my son would have obstacles; many of them perceived many of them real but all the same obstacles. He was young and commented fiercely that “life wasn’t a game and neither was getting on the fire department”.

In time, as I began to better explain to him the course necessary to become a firefighter, he began to see into my simplistic assessment of the firefighter examination process. To play and win the game you have to know the rules. It is often said that everyone has the same opportunity, but that isn’t true in all cases. The rules can be changed enough to keep even the person that wants to play the most from competing. An example is the current and oft used on-line employment posting and application process. A simple rule but to those without a computer and high speed internet access, the game now becomes as impossible as a basketball without the hoops. It is not possible to score even one point to winning.

When I speak to a person who wants to be a firefighter, I explain that it is important first to have the passion for the game, that to want to be a firefighter is consuming. Then I explain that it is in their interest to exhaust all efforts to knowing the rules or what steps they will have to take to be competitive and successful. Whether by self determination or through a good coach, only by knowing the rules is one competitive and able to play on an equal playing field. To be able to fashion a hoop from an old basket nailed to a post. Knowing that getting the ball through that hoop is one point to winning the game.

When I first sought out a career in the fire service, my hoop was a loose-leaf notebook that held the notes I collected about upcoming examinations…one of many points that helped me win the game. I didn’t have computer and I didn’t have a coach. There are good people today, who are very qualified and will make excellent firefighters yet through circumstance may be without a hoop. They don’t know the rules. I believe coaching and guidance and empowering their passion will help them fashion the hoop they need and they will play the game.

I’m looking forward to seeing them make their first point.©

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