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Building a Bridge over the Generational Gap

The Battalion Chief stood in front of the state-of-the-art firehouse openly sharing his concern about the new generation of firefighter.

“Many of these guys are young!” the BC shared. “We have kids becoming officers because of the schooling they have but not because of the experience!


He was, of course, referring to the younger firefighters moving about in the station behind him. The conversation had begun about how the department was selecting equipment to purchase but had quickly turned to a discourse on the evils of a millennial generation that had been born into Generation Y and had an over-inflated sense of entitlement alongside a lack of work ethic that might assist them in reaching real goals.

While comments like this tend to offend the new generation, researchers have proven that this is actually true and that the world is slowly being handed over to a new breed of young people that have been told from birth they are special and as a result now believe it - and will ignore anybody who says otherwise.

According to extensive and recent research, this new generation is already known for its reliance on technologies and an extreme casual approach to life, its problems and its challenges. One defining characteristic of this generation is the loss of strong work ethic and self-sacrifice that made the generation of their grandparents great.

According to a study performed by the University of New Hampshire, the new generations over- exaggerated self-esteem masks many ugly realities such as poor job performance and unrealistic life goals such as desiring higher salaries but more leisure time. It may also mask something far more dangerous when these new leaders enter the world of disaster response, emergency management and EMS.


My first few fire departments were led by men that had experience. Lots of it, in fact, at one time, I performed duties under the command of a fire chief in his late 70’s. And it made sense. While these men had very little formal schooling and had never attended fancy schools with training towers worth millions, these men had something that could never be taught, but only learned over the course of years; experience.

At this point in my career, I work with companies that struggle to break into new emergency management and response markets and I watch speakers and presenters try desperately to reach a younger generation of responders.


I recently encountered this lack of experience as I quoted and recommended new gear for a young emergency manager. The eager but inexperienced young man knew what he wanted, but I knew it was unrealistic, not because I knew more about his desires, but because I knew more about what his area could face when it came to disasters.


You see, at age 28, the young man had never experienced a major blizzard nor had he seen the nightmare of an elongated power outage in the area under his care, so he saw no need to purchase equipment that could stand to these rigors. The problem we had at that table was one of generational void, a phenomena we will see more and more throughout the coming years as manufacturers, innovators, trainers and consultants. To base the safety of men and women strictly on 8 to 10 years of adulthood should have been criminal when this man’s jurisdiction encompassed an area that had been plagued by cyclical disasters since before the communities he was charged in protecting were even populated. His area had, in fact, experienced long-term power outages (lasting weeks) only 30 years earlier. Blizzards bringing feet of snow in less than 12 hours had occurred 6 times since the early 1900’s.

Here is the problem: the present attitude of entitlement, or “I should be given everything” also has a darker side, which is “I should never deal with that”.


1949 Blizzard

At some point, every one of us will run into one of these buyers, and as we grow older, and our companies continue to do business, the probability grows higher. It is a fact of life. Leadership that experienced the disasters and threats and challenges of the past are retiring and dying leaving young people with no life experience to take their place; young people that will eventually discover that if you want money you have to work for it, if you want time off and beautiful things you have to save for them, and disasters happen everywhere every once in a while no matter who lives there or what people think the world owes (or doesn’t owe) them.

Let’s case study the Cornhusker State because it is one I am familiar with.


In November of 1949, a blizzard roared into the state with heavy snow, sleet and winds of 50 - 70 miles per hour. Roads were blocked, schools closed, snow drifted over rooftops and livestock were stranded. Trains were stuck, and telephone service was disrupted. The Weather Bureau called the storm, "one of the most severe blizzards of record over much of the central and northeastern portions of the state."

1888 Blizzard

A blizzard like this was referred to as “unprecedented”, yet, in 1888, an identical blizzard struck the same area killing over 240. So why, in 1949, was the blizzard considered so extraordinary?


Because in 1888, a blizzard was experienced by adults who were forced to care for their children and their homesteads, adults that would never forget the experience, yet, 61 years later, most of those folks were dead. A new generation was enjoying adulthood when they had their lives disrupted by a “one-of-a-kind blizzard” that was really not that unique.

In 1997, another blizzard surprised yet another generation with not only massive snow and ice fall, but with power outages that lasted up to two weeks in some places. So where were the seasoned heroes of 1949? In their late 70’s to early 90’s. A new regime was in charge and they had never seen anything like it.

Now, enter a generation that not only has no experience in the things of old man winter in Nebraska, they also believe that they are entitled to not experience anything negative.

THAT is your new client.


So how do we overcome the generational voids and place the right equipment in those hands?

We educate two people. Us and them.

In a time when the client feels that they know it all, it is difficult to sell products that meet a challenge they know nothing about which leaves the education of this new generation up to you. How well do you know your customer’s area? Have you researched not only what they face daily but what they COULD face? Is the area prone to historic floods every 40 to 50 years? Has your customer’s area experienced tornado outbreaks every 4 decades? How about the cyclical nature of hurricane seasons?


Look at the picture above. On the left, this Joplin, Missouri neighborhood had remained the same for 50 years. On the right is a picture of the same neighborhood immediately after the Joplin tornado.

To be successful at placing the right solution into the hands of someone that will need it is an art form; that is why so many companies merely sell products and so few offer solutions (and YES, there is a difference). In today’s world of entitlement, we need to bridge not only generational voids caused by cyclical disasters and challenges that jump 4 or more decades, we need to become educators to a generation that has chosen to create a chasm between the wisdom and experience of their predecessors and their own reality.

Communities worldwide have been facing an increasing frequency and variety of disasters, which have had a number of direct and indirect causes as well as effects. Unfortunately, when these disasters occur, they are immediately deemed as “unprecedented” as if they are anomalies, but the truth lies in the history; most large disasters are a part of a cyclical system that brings havoc and damage every so often to every corner of the world.


Most of these disasters demand a solution and one of them could be the one YOU manufacture or represent. The issue now is whether or not you are prepared to go toe-to-toe with the new generation as an educator. They won’t study the history, they believe you should bring it to them, so take advantage of the situation and study the reasons why they will someday need your solution, why it is important to be prepared, and how this preparedness purchase will benefit them.

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