The landscape of the fire service has evolved drastically throughout the past century, but the deep and personal desire to serve our communities remains unchanged. Historic giants like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson served as firefighters. These public servants taught us about perseverance, humility and, most importantly, putting service above self.
When I became a firefighter 50 years ago, the only prerequisites that existed to join a department involved having a pulse and being able to fog a mirror. My first order was to find an experienced firefighter at every incident and stayed glued to their backside. Over time I learned all the terminology, what to do and, most importantly, what not to do. Eventually, I was allowed to be on my own and a few short years later, I found a new “rookie” glued to my backside and the student became the teacher.
This approach worked in a time when the primary responsibility of a firefighter was to fight fires and that was done mostly from the front yard. The advances of technology in breathing apparatus, protective clothing, thermal imaging and a host of other tools have allowed us to respond to more than fires.
Today, firefighters are often expected to be medics, hazardous material specialists, vehicle extrication experts, confined space and rope rescue technicians, and must be able to execute a whole litany of other duties. Yet, in spite of these increased expectations, the path to becoming a firefighter has only become more arduous.
For instance, to become a volunteer firefighter in one of our local communities, one must commit to participate in trainings held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6-10 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. for six months. This is the schedule to become a volunteer firefighter. I’m unaware of any other volunteer service that requires this much training and then puts one’s life at risk in the performance of that service.
Furthermore, until the development of the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative (MAAC) Emergency Services Training campus, recruits were expected to drive from fire station to fire station where individual training props were stored in whatever spare corner a fire department could donate. As one can imagine, the strenuous training demands have negatively contributed to departments’ efforts to recruit and retain talent.
Many have asked why I have chosen to give in this way. The answer is unassuming. I found it incomprehensible that our fire, law enforcement, and EMS personnel did not have a comprehensive training facility that honors them and their commitment to service. My late father, Clyde McMillan, was chief of the Gary Task Force. Many warmly referred to him as “Mack” or “Chief.” It was my father’s idea for a new style of fire hose nozzle that provided the seed that became Task Force Tips, now a world leader in water flow technology.
It is the success of Task Force Tips that has allowed me to be able to give back to the community by founding the “MAAC” to honor my father, the giant of my life and that of many others.
Stewart McMillan is fire chief and founder of the MAAC Foundation, www.maacfoundation.com. The opinions are the writer's.