The Meat Eaters

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“The Meat Eaters”

In every fire department there are those few companies who set the bar. They are the ones that you always want on the challenging assignments. They are the ones who can always find a way to get the job done. They are the companies everyone wants to transfer to and no one wants to leave. There are some common elements about these companies and these elements are what makes these folks ‘The Meat Eaters”.

They understand team – there are no “Lone Rangers”

As good as these companies are, they understand it takes a team effort to prevail at a fire. They understand their role is defined by command and they know how to take directions. They don’t look for credit, they just look to get the job done. They are a tight unit and you will never hear any one of them speak ill of the others. Most times when you see one of them, you will see all of them. They are not robots or clones, but they realize their true strength lies with the group not with the individual.

They have mastered and maintained their basic skill set:

It does not matter how long they have been around, they know performance is based on their skills. The twenty year member still does gear donning drills. The officer can still do a one person ladder carry & raise with a 24 foot extension ladder. They move with a great sense of comfort in their gear because they train in their gear all the time. They understand that to be a master of their craft they need to do their “sets & reps” every day. They make the basics look easy and can perform without hesitation.

Their playbook has more than one page:

They are just as comfortable deploying a long handline around multiple obstacles made up from the dead load in the hose bed as they are pulling the 200 foot pre-connect to the front door of a single family dwelling. They have spent time driving around their first due and have game planned the high hazard buildings. They can drop a hose bundle and reverse lay to a plug as easy as they can forward to the front door of a fire building. They can deploy ground ladders and if necessary “ladder splice” to reach a trapped victim. Give them a problem and in very short order they will come up with a solution.

They have a high level of tactical fitness:

This is a hard job and they know to be successful you have to be a hard person. Sometime they do PT as a group, sometimes they do it as an individual. Some like to run and some are big weight lifters. The common thread among the different people and the different types of training is that each one them takes the responsibility for their own fitness. They don’t need a policy or their boss to tell them to do PT, they know the success of the team depends on them and they will not fail.

Their leaders have earned their respect:

They call their officers “boss” because their officers have earned their respect. Their officers prove everyday by their actions, not just their words, that the fire department promoted the right person. Their officers never forget where they came from. Just because they are the leader does not exempt them from washing the rig or doing the dishes. Their skills are sharp, they take care of their people, and they hold everyone, themselves included, to the same high standards.

They are not often surprised and when they are they don’t act it:

They know you can’t plan for every alternative. They understand that sometimes the stars just line up a certain way.  They also understand that we are in the problem solving business. If we let the situation take control then bad things happen. We have to be nimble on the emergency scene and roll with the punches. If the Meat Eaters lose their composure what will everyone else do? They understand this and quite simply, will not let a situation dominate them, they dominate the situation.

They understand constant effort:

The Meat Eaters know that yesterday is old news. They know that to claim the title you have to do the work. Just because you were a stud 5 years ago does not guarantee tomorrow. Excellence is about the journey and the journey never really ends. They don’t let this concern them. They can grind all day long because they know when one of them is a little off, the others will pick them up. It’s not easy, but they really don’t want easy.

They want to be in the game:

Like Michael Jordan was when he was playing, the meat eaters are clutch players. They are well adjusted, they have interest outside the fire department, but being a firefighter is a big part of who they are. When the hot run comes in they want to be there. They want to be first due, they want to be at the tip of the spear. More than anything, they are proud of being firefighters, they are passionate about their calling, and they will stand toe to toe with anyone who ridicules their “all in” attitude.

There is a very simple truth about what I have laid out in this article. Everyone has the ability to be a Meat Eater, it just depends on how hard you are willing to work. Everything here starts with the individual so you make the choice of what you want to be and what type of company you want to be known as. Good luck and just roll up your sleeves & get to it.


Chief Reilly is a 44 year fire service veteran currently serving as the Assistant Chief for Operations in Davis, California. Prior to moving to California Chief Reilly was the Fire Chief in Sunrise Beach, Missouri and a Battalion Chief in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The Chief Reilly holds an MPA from Penn State and has been granted his CFO designation. In addition to his fire service career the chief is a combat veteran of the US Army and has worked for several years as high threat protection contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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