Rebecca Wax was born and raised in New York City. She graduated from Stuyvesant High School where she was a co-captain of the School Gymnastics Team. She became certified as a Gymnastics Coach teaching recreational gymnastics classes. Following Stuyvesant, she attended Hunter College and graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in Political Science. Following that Rebecca attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice and earned a B.S in Fire Science with a Magna Cum Laude. Rebecca has worked in Intergovernmental Affairs, Fire Prevention, and has been a firefighter for over seven years. Rebecca worked as part of a group tasked with conducting extensive research on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the fire service and identifying where the culture of the fire service needs to adjust to better align with these values. She is also a certified Scuba Diver.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I wanted a career where I could help people, and it was rewarding. Fire safety and fire prevention keep people safe.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day begins with discussing events and emergencies of the past shift and upcoming events and training. Then the fire apparatus and all its equipment are checked for serviceability and cleanliness. Following this the fire house is cleaned and maintained. A normal day consists of building inspections, focusing on fire safety and familiarization of buildings in our response area. In the afternoon, the unit will train on various firefighting topics ranging from standpipe operations in high rise buildings to familiarization of how to use a piece of equipment. All these activities are interrupted by emergencies. Upon mitigation of the situation, we pick up whatever activity was interrupted. Any down time is spent reading job related materials such as books, magazines, practicing firefighting skills, or watching training videos in order to improve my job performance at an emergency.
How do you bring ideas to life?
New ideas can be brought to an officer and passed up the chain of command. If the department thinks this idea is useful, they contact the individual to determine if the idea is worthy of conducting large scale evaluation and implementation department wide or even fire service wide.
What’s one trend that excites you?
People need to be aware of the potential dangers of lithium-ion batteries and their potential to overheat and start fires. E-bikes and scooters and other rechargeable items have become very popular and are powered by lithium-ion batteries. From a firefighting standpoint, these batteries can be very dangerous when not handled properly during charging. Damage or frayed chargers can lead to overheating and sparks that can start a fire. It is best to use a charger that came with the device and/or recommended by the manufacturer since noncompliant chargers are more likely to start a fire. If a charger or battery starts to overheat, disconnect the charger and battery immediately.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am highly motivated, I want to train, and I have pride and professionalism in my work. These are all qualities sought after in the fire service.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Realizing that there are going to be roadblocks and people who want to see you fail. You will need to build mental resilience to the barriers that are going to be placed in your path. Never give up, and never be afraid to admit to your mistakes and learn from them.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Diversity makes us stronger; the fire service is slowly adapting to that mindset. Firefighters dislike change. Being a female in the fire service is a change many have not accepted. Regardless of what anyone thinks, women can do this job, and we are good at it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Practice your trade. Practice things you know, practice things you haven’t done in a long time. When you practice something repeatedly it becomes muscle memory and is much easier to do in an emergency situation when you have to react quickly.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Always continue to learn and be open to new ideas. You never want to have an attitude of knowing everything and have nothing new to learn. This attitude can get you killed.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A false representation of my skills, ability, and knowledge was created by a small group of detractors. I had to find ways to overcome this. I’ve worked hard, had a good attitude, and done my job. I can’t control what other people think, I know what I’ve done, and I will continue to do my job well.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
As a female and/or POC going into the fire service know that there will be roadblocks placed in your path, and you need resiliency to overcome these roadblocks. Seek out good mentors who will support you, give you good advice, and be there for you when you need them. When you have reached a point in your career where you are able to be a mentor for someone, take that opportunity and mentor that person to the best of your ability.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Two friends helped remind me of what is important in life. These were things I already knew, but needed a reminder of. And for the last few days I’ve spent time with them and listened to their advice. As a thank you I took them out for drinks. Spending money on people to show your appreciation is always worth it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I find training videos to be very helpful. Due to Covid it is difficult to do things in person, as a result you can learn a lot from training videos. They can be useful in life as well as work. I’ve recently used videos on how to use a new scuba diving computer and how to improve my swimming technique. I was able to do this on my own time without the need of another person.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, and How to be an AntiRacist by Ibram X. Kendi. Both books force you to re-examine your views on racism and give you the ability to see that we all have more to learn about racism. Both books aid you in re-examining your prejudices that you may not have realized that you had.
What is your favorite quote?
This isn’t an exact quote – it had to be edited to change some of the language, but this is something I found years ago when I was still a new firefighter, although I can’t remember where I found it. At the time, I wrote it onto a piece of paper that I hung inside my locker at work. It helped me change my mind set to get through some tough times:
The Lessons are in the Ring – Brian Yorkin
“Firefighters, not unlike fighters, have to engage in order to overcome their opponent or obstacles. Do not give in to those who criticize you. All they want to do is occupy space in your mind, control your thoughts, and manipulate your actions. Cruelty is cheap, easy, and a cowardly tactic. Do not try to win over the haters. Haters are everywhere. Haters are your biggest fans, they just cheer a little differently. Those who are talking the most BS are doing the least. Look for those doing the most, follow them, for they don’t have time to criticize, because they are getting things done. The lessons are in the ring, not in the stands.”
- Resiliency is vital in the fire service
- Ownership of mistakes is key and learning from your mistakes, so you don’t repeat them is essential.
- Things change quickly, continuing education in a must
- Adaptability to rapidly changing work environments is essential.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.