Firefighting and My MBA

As most of you know, I was a volunteer firefighter up in New York and and down in Virginia.

In New York, I served with 100 volunteers. Meaning, we responded, day or night, 24 hours a day, any day of the year, to the call when it went out. Who showed up for each call was determined by who was free or not.

In Virginia, I served with 6 other volunteers, for one night a week (a 12 hour shift). Those six other volunteers were either volunteers like myself (where we put ourselves through the academy, on our own time and expense) or “careers” (those firefighters who had a job as a firefighter during the day, and then served as a volunteer at night).

When I made my transition from being a NY firefighter to a VA firefighter, I quickly discovered that “volunteer” means something totally different between the volunteers in NY and those in VA.

In New York, I had fought dozens of fires, had pulled many a body (alive and dead) from car wrecks, fires, ocean, and so on, and attended many many meetings in helping determine where the fire company was going, how to make it better, and so on.

In Virginia, it was different. Before, during, and after the academy (the same academy that the “careers” went to, just that volunteers go at night and all day on weekends). All of my skills that I had learned in New York were questioned and discarded. My certifications were ignored. And, more importantly, because I was a true volunteer and not a career during the day, my skill set was always “suspect” and I was to be ignored and placed last (even though I could teach so many others what I learned over the years fighting fires in New York).

You get the idea — the ego’s in Virginia were totally different than those in New York. Those that went through an “academy” knew way more than the volunteer who learned on the street and actually did it.

And this reminds me of a previous post I did — where my MBA is my street experience or skill-set I had gained over the years, etc.

It was the same in firefighting.

Companies, fire or business, think that the MBA (or being a career firefighter) is more important and more credible than actually experience.

And they are wrong.

Standing up in front of a board and giving a presentation does not come from an MBA, it comes from practical experience. I have been in many meetings where the MBA fell on their face because they were “book-smart” and the books said “do it this way”.

Standing before a fully involved house fire and preparing to run in does not come from sitting in an academy and learning from books what and how to do it. I have been in enough fires where the “rookie”, fresh out of the academy, threw up in their mask, froze up at the entrance, or just turned and walked away. There is nothing wrong with any of this happening — in fact, respect was given to those that walked away — you do not want to enter a fire when your partner is scared to death.

I would rather go into a presentation to the board with someone who has years of experience vs someone who just got their MBA. Just like I would rather go into a fire with someone who has experienced fire vs someone who knows about it because of the books they read.

Of course, after a dozen years, the MBA person may finally have the experience that a non-MBA 20 year veteran may have. “May”.

I still don’t get it why people with experience, who have taken companies to the next level, are passed over for someone who has none of that experience, but has that MBA. It is the same with firefighting. I would much rather have that volunteer with 100’s of hours if fighting vs that career that has yet to experience their first fire.




Love marketing. Enjoy trance. Past-Volunteer fire fighter. Lucky enough to have traveled the world and gained experiences that I like to share.

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Blaine Phelps

Blaine Phelps

Love marketing. Enjoy trance. Past-Volunteer fire fighter. Lucky enough to have traveled the world and gained experiences that I like to share.

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