Heredity versus environment; the debate has gone on for years. Now why in the world would this be of interest to the fire service? Primarily because there are so many multi-generational members in the “family” business. It is an easier question to examine from the desk than from the jumpseat or chief’s car.
The premise is based on the theory (I don’t think it’s a theory. I think its damn well a fact) that only a limited number of people in the population possess the innate ability to go into burning buildings. Accepting that, why then, are so many of them from the same families?
Exposure to the business through visits to the fire station as a kid can certainly enhance the interest level. That alone doesn’t provide the ability necessary to make the push through the door.
I’ve seen many second or third generation firefighters—at least they start out to be one—that were total disasters. So it isn’t something that is automatically passed from generation to generation. However, the number of times it does happen argues for more than statistical anomaly.
One of the messages from this is that we should look not just externally, but internally as well for recruiting. Having my son become a firefighter kept me active many more years than I likely would have been otherwise, so it works for retention as well.
So the answer to the original question of heredity versus environment is…..don’t know—but it is fun to think about.