As firefighters, we are asked to provide many types of services. Firefighting, EMS, hazardous materials, rescue, and other tasks that are usually menial. We respond when someone needs help standing after a fall, getting cats out of trees, and removing storm debris for hours on end. We teach CPR to local organizations, fire safety to children, and assist elderly residents with installing smoke detectors and vitals checks. We commonly refer to this as “service” when in reality these are “services.”
Service is not the duties we perform on a daily basis. Service is the art of putting others before yourself. Service is not a cheap buzzword to be used in mission statements or administrative meetings. Service is at the heart of our obligations. It refers to our heritage and tradition. It encompasses the meaning behind our craft as a whole. We are the “fire service.” Service is defined as, “an act of help or assistance.” This is what we do. This is how we make our mark in the future.
We serve three distinct groups of people. First, the obvious, our community. To serve the community we protect, we must continually strive to improve. If we fail here, we provide a disservice to our department and the name of all those who gave their lives in service. If we take our position for granted, we fail to help those in need. Our lack of preparation leads to a failure to provide assistance to those in distress.
The second group of people we serve are our fellow firefighters. My biggest fear is allowing one of my men/women to perish, knowing I could have done more to prepare them. When we fail to ensure the safety of our crews, our citizens, and ourselves, we perform a disservice. This disservice has a butterfly effect on the daily life of everyone we come in contact with.
The next group we serve are our families. We serve our families by making sure we are using effective, functional knowledge to ensure our safety. When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, they feel no more pain. They are burdened no more. But the lives and actions of their family, friends, department, and community are changed forever. They bear the burden of the loss, they feel the hurt, and they reap what you have sown. All too often we act as if everyone owes us something. Before you react, remember that you signed the dotted line. We asked for this job. No judge sentenced us to time in the fire service. We chose this line of work for a reason, and if you have any sense at all, it’s not the benefits. We are the ones who owe something. We owe our families more than just making another 24. We owe our brothers more than watching how to save his life on YouTube. We owe our community more than learning search procedures from an IFSTA manual. We owe these people. We owe our children the right to have a father growing up, by embracing the facts……We can be called to meet our maker at any time. We must exceed the status quo. There are too many amongst us that are not prepared to face adversity. I cannot and will not allow myself to become complacent in my “service.” I will serve others with a tenacity that scares the mediocre. I will not allow the opinions of others to affect my service to my brethren, community, and most of all, family.
It’s an honor to serve. It’s an honor to respond in a time of need. Don’t let disservice be how you are remembered for your service.
Bremen Fire Rescue
Building the future fire officer and re-enforcing the capabilities of current ones.
Professional development in any career field is an important process for the stability and growth of the organization. The fire service tends to lean internally when it comes to promoting officers; this makes the practice of professional development a critical one. Our firefighters absorb specific operational knowledge about their response area over time, that knowledge becomes a brain trust which is invaluable to a department. The local operational knowledge required to be a fire officer in any given jurisdiction
is nearly a necessity. For that reason, it’s important for a fire department to develop the people they have as opposed to bringing in new officers from the outside. With clear expectations of your officers and a comprehensive development program, fire departments set the stage for their members to be successful while creating the foundation for a well-tuned and morale-rich fire department.
Professional development in the fire service can encompass many facets of leadership and management. As with everything, the scope of a professional development training program should be defined in writing. This definition could include educational requirements and address or defined a wide range of topics and resources for study such as:
- customer service
- conflict resolution
- communication (radio & routine)
- disciplinary action
- role playing sessions
- public relations
- ethics and holding a position of public trust
- personal life conduct
- social media conduct
- local incident command
- health & wellness
- applicable state and federal laws
- recognizing the signs of suicide and when to reach out
- creative problem solving
- diversity and cultural sensitivity
- handling customer complaints and much much more.
The list could be nearly endless. The core idea behind professional development is to identify the knowledge and skills your department finds desirable in an officer and create functional training around those topics. Training on each topic could be in the form of custom online multi media courses using a Learning Management System (LMS) (see Revolutionize Your Volunteer Training) combined with in-person training sessions. Building multi media classes around each topic allow the members to complete the assigned training on their own time, in their homes, at the ball game or in the air. No LMS? Classroom works just as well. Knowledge gained through LMS multi media courses should always be re-enforced with practical or even a role-playing session in the classroom. Some fire officers are unsure how they will react given a specific situation. Role playing puts the officer in that uncomfortable position allowing him to use his communication skills to resolve the problem. Coaching and mentoring during the role playing session helps to develop the officer’s skills in managing personnel.
Professional development training resources should be readily available to everyone within the department. The program you develop should be assigned to officers and used to refresh current skills as well as providing firefighters with the opportunity to learn and later promote. If utilizing a multi media LMS platform, a department could theoretically link course completion with potential for promotion when positions become available.
I’ve always held the belief that achieving certifications and/or education is just the beginning. It’s what you do with that education once you’ve completed it that makes all the difference. You can complete a driver operator course certifying that you understand the basics of driving and pumping a fire apparatus but does that necessarily make you qualified? Practicing the craft of being a good driver operator is essential to successful fire ground operation as the incident typically pivots on the pump operator. (See here) Similar to the driver operator analogy, simply learning about the aspects, principles, and processes of leadership and personnel management isn’t enough. The information and the knowledge you learn in classes require development and practice because that is the essence of being a professional.
It’s important to recognize that professional development is a process and it’s ongoing. There is mentoring and coaching that takes place throughout the officer’s tenure. As officers and future officers encounter situations and scenarios they aren’t quite equipped to handle, the act of walking someone through the steps to achieve the desired result will often help to form and develop a functionally more intelligent officer.
Every step of the way officers should be encouraged to own their role and not be afraid of making mistakes. There should be a mild expectation that we’ll all make mistakes at some point. We’re all human. Mistakes and missteps should be viewed as learning moments and an opportunity to develop skills and proper behaviors. As leaders, we should look at ourselves objectively and recognize that we’re all just practicing. Similar to how physicians practice medicine, we, as fire officer’s practice the art of leadership and our craft.
Without question, building a professional development program for your fire department will have a long lasting effect on the health and morale of the organization. If you or the members of your department do not possess the skills to create a professional development program or are not well versed in the topics requiring development, reach out to members or leaders within the community. It’s likely someone in your response area has the ability to help re-enforce customer service skills, conflict resolution skills and the like.
If you have any specific questions regarding anything in this article, please feel free to comment, and I’ll do everything I can to point you to some helpful topic resources.
Good Luck and Be Kind.
Other articles in the Thoughtful Leadership series include:
In apartment complexes and commercial strip malls across the country, we have issues with line placement through narrow or obstructed paths. These can be caused by parked cars, short setbacks, parking barriers, planters, shrubs, etc. With this in mind, one option available is to pass these obstacles before the deployment of the hose. This is what I like to call “The Delayed Triple Split.” This maneuver allows for the entire hose bundle (on a triple layer) to be deployed after passing through any obstructions or obstacles on the pathway to the building. A few considerations go into this deployment process; they are as follows:
– Placement for the aerial at buildings. The best practice is to have the first arriving aerial’s turntable at the center of the building to access the entire length of the building.
– Placement for the next engine company to bring water or supply a “booster back-up.”
– The width of the average car is approximately six to seven and a half (6′ – 7.5′) feet.
– The width of the average parking space is seven and a half to nine (7.5′ – 9′) feet.
– When spotting the hose cross-lays, use an object in the same area on the truck to act as a reference point, i.e. Piston Intake Valve, wheel well, strobe light, etc.
– The objective could be met with only two firefighters involved.
– Find the average length of bedded hose. The average car is about fourteen to eighteen (14′ – 18′) feet long. You need to find how many folds in the cross-lay are needed to reach the sidewalk, which is approximately twenty (20′) feet from the apparatus.
– The Nozzle Firefighter and Driver/Backup Firefighter go in opposite directions (Triple Split) with the loop and nozzle. This allows for short setback deployments.
– When choosing which way to separate the triple layer on the walkway, consider the need for the loop to advance with the building, not against.
– When Backup/Driver is pulling the loop section of the Triple Layer to the opposite side of the fire building, keep pulling it until the fifty (50’) foot coupling is at the entry to the breezeway/recessed area. This will allow the Nozzleman to walk in a straight path to the entry point and keep all remaining 100’ of hose in usable position in the yard.
– On the return trip to the pump panel or relocating to the front door for Doorman position, the last parts of the hose is placed onto the sidewalk/walk space to allow for clearance once the hose gets charged.
– The 50’ coupling is brought to the front door, with the accordion style layout in the open area between the stairs and building.
– If the 2nd-floor apartment is the apartment, take the nozzle and 50’ coupling to the top of the landing. This will further prove the need for the Backup/Driver to pull the looped section far enough to align the 50’ coupling with the base of the stairs.
With these steps, the training evolution was completed in approximately 1 minute from the time the parking brake was pulled. This is an easy way to allow for the needless pulling of the Triple Layer in a straight line, causing multiple steps to place in proper position.
The key to this process, as with any new training elements, is getting out and practicing. Finding those landmarks on the truck, the direction of the loop placement, and placement of the final layout in the yard or on the landing are the fundamentals to making this stretch successful. Unfortunately, many things in these types of properties will reach up and grab anything on the hose layout to hinder the progress. Couplings get caught on the edge of parking blocks, hoses get pulled under tires, etc. By moving the stretch to the fire building side of the obstructions, the layout will transition smoother with fewer locations for Murphy’s Law to apply.
– Joel Richardson
Our daily lives are completely reliant on decisions. Before we awaken, we have made a decision. Are we rising early to prepare for the day, or did we decide to sleep late and run behind? We decide to come to work on time or early. We decide to prepare ourselves physically. We decide to display pride in our craft. We decide to meticulously inspect our equipment, or we decide to do the exact opposite.
Did we decide to be lazy? Does drinking coffee and checking our Facebook take precedence over preparing to save a life? Does reading the latest article on celebrity gossip trump the duty you have to your brothers, to ensure you are not going to endanger them? Do we decide to spend more time armchair quarterbacking the decisions of others than making the right decision to drill our personnel to the point in which they cannot fail?
These decisions leave us at a crossroads on a daily basis take the easy path….or the right path. A friend of mine uses the saying, “The beaten path is for beaten people.” This is the heart of what’s wrong with the fire service as a whole. We’d rather concede and give people an excuse than hold them to a higher standard. That’s a decision in itself. Unfortunately for some, a difficult one to make. It should be automatic for us.
Every morning we should make the decision to go upstream, against the current. We must decide every morning not just to survive, but to thrive in a world where most would fear to go. Our job is to protect lives on both sides of the cross. If we choose the beaten path, we make a conscious decision to take the easy way out, to run the risk of having to live with ourselves knowing we allowed someone to be unprepared for the dangerous line of work we have. At no point, can we allow ourselves to let laziness be the order of the day.
Instead, we must DECIDE to awaken with a purpose. DECIDE to prepare for the worst possible scenario, physically, mentally, technically and spiritually. We must decide to make basic skills an autonomous response to stress. We must ensure we can make sound tactical decisions. This comes from deciding to prepare accordingly, deciding to prepare for your preparation of the unknown. As for me, I have decided that moderation is for cowards. I have decided that stronger people are harder to kill. I have decided that I will not waiver from my standards and expectations. I have decided that I will train with the intensity necessary to perform at a level higher than others. I have decided that I want to be the guy with the hard job, the crappy gear, the guy who can do more damage with a Halligan than most can with hydraulic tools. I want to be the guy everyone looks up to when the shit hits the fan. That’s my decision.
So, gentlemen, the day is yours……what did you decide?
Part 1: “Entitlement”
Part 2: “Running People Off”
The US is an industrialized nation. We have modeled everything after the assembly line or mass production. We have also taught people from infancy that you can only achieve if you progress down the assembly line of the educational system. To get high marks and to obtain a degree and promoting the idea that our bodies are just transportation for our brains. The idea that having the highest level of education in the land will be rewarded by the highest level of pay is something that all of us, up until the past decade or so, have been taught. Strive to be the smartest guy/gal in the room, so you will be looked upon as the problem solver.
The same holds true in the fire service. We tell the young men or women that they need to stay in the books if they want to wear the white helmet someday. We tell them that they all should want to wear the white helmet and if they don’t they are not formulating solid “career goals.” We disqualify people from promotional opportunities because they do not have or are not pursuing their “degrees.” I hear it from all areas of the country. Some of it is us, and some of it is our HR department.
The part that we don’t tell them is that the Chiefs that a lot of us grew up under didn’t have degrees. They worked administratively and operationally to build the departments up without the framed piece of paper on the wall. They did their jobs, and they did them well, and they learned what it took to run a department.
Now some of you will say I am unenlightened. You will say that a degree is what is needed to operate a department these days due to the political climates, budgets and personnel issues. I agree with that for the most part. The part that I begin to have a problem with is that the amount of operational or “street” time a person has continued to be less and less important when selections are made for command officers. People are getting promoted that test and interview well but lack the intuition or operational knowledge to command a fire scene to a successful resolution. They get promoted because their file is thick with certificates from classes they have “taken.” I know that every fire goes out eventually so each fire scene will end in time but there are ways to resolve incidents without a great loss of life, property or personnel.
Unfortunately, in some departments, as the individuals move “up the chain” they get further and further away from the operational side of the department. They lose touch with some basic skills of EMS and fire suppression and become knee-jerk commanders; spouting out orders that they think will work but are not based on operational knowledge. Nobody questions their decisions until something goes wrong or the scene goes off the rails.
The point I am trying to make is that you don’t always have to have a degree to be successful in this business. If that is something you want to shoot for, then go for it! I have spoken to many people who have spent a great deal of time and money on degrees that they don’t use. The fire service is full of people like that.
Just know that success is measured in different ways. I have always looked up to people who work with their hands. The people that I have looked up to in this job have been the ones that know every aspect of the equipment and can tell you 100 ways to do a task, and yes, I admire the guy who can force a door 29 ways. They have the knowledge that can’t be learned in a classroom. One of the people I look up to the most in this business can tell you everything you need to know about fire service hand tools. How to use them the way they were intended to be used and all kinds of tricks to use the tools in different ways. I learn something every time we talk about tools. That is knowledge that comes from working with your hands. That knowledge is priceless, and it didn’t cost him anything to learn it.
My father spent 8 years in college to become an attorney. I have always said he’s the dumbest smart person I know. He taught me about economics and government, how to balance checkbooks, how the banking system works and to ask the right questions to get the answers you want; all things that I use to
this day. However, that guy couldn’t show me how to build anything, fix a car or figure out why the breaker kept tripping when my mom and sister tried to run 2 hair dryers, a heater, a radio and a curling iron on the same circuit in a house with 100 amp service. Those things I had to learn from other people over the years. I love my dad, but he’s got the nerd gene that he passed onto me. I didn’t get the full nerd gene however, so I wanted to know how to work with my hands. I sought out people to teach me, and I’m glad I did. I still have no idea how to fix my car, though. I have people for that.
Wearing the white helmet is definitely a goal to shoot for. It can be challenging and rewarding at the same time. It can also shorten your life expectancy due to the stress involved. Your career success should not be measured by a white helmet at the end, it should be measured in how well you did your job; how well you passed on what you know and by how well you used the time you had in this amazing line of work to serve your fellow man.
Stay safe out there!
Put your faith in the knuckle dragging, window breaking, hose pulling members of your crew but don’t discount the guy who can figure friction loss in his head!
Being a strong leader doesn’t mean you must be in charge. In fact, leadership is not absolute control. As I learned, leading up the chain of command is equally as important as leading down the chain (Willink and Babin, 2015). The best leaders may be the guys making the push off the back step and it is the job of the officer to use their people to ultimately ready the company for its “career fire.” Two concepts are at the center of being an effective leader: Defining expectations and planning. In this piece, we will talk about defining expectations.
There is a lot of rhetoric in the fire service today, some of which I am guilty of playing into. We must be realistic in defining our expectations because lofty or utopic goals are merely unicorns- unachievable and not real. We have to set a standard for ourselves, first and foremost. In a previous post about the airbrake drill, I detailed how just 25-30 minutes a day has brought our crew to the next level. We can communicate, anticipate needs and actions, and we’ve built trust. Training shouldn’t feel like a punishment, and I feel much of today’s training throws unrealistic scenarios and expectations on a crew, which immediately demotivates even the most highly motivated firefighters. Commit yourself to doing something for thirty minutes a day. Many would be surprised how many times you can raise a ladder in a thirty-minute period, or how many times you can stretch knee bundles. Like a diet or exercise plan, once you accept the commitment and discipline yourself to devote the necessary time, it becomes second nature, and you can move towards affecting the people around you positively. The cliché term is leading by example. People will follow suit.
War story time: While detailed at another station, I was using some spare hose to stretch knee bundles. About 15 minutes in, the officer walks out in the bay and asks what I’m doing. I explained that I was trying out some stuff I had learned in a recent class and was just getting some reps in. I guess he was interested because he stuck around and watched. Eventually, a third guy came out, and the officer said, “Hey watch this, do that V thing again you just did.” Later on, the fourth came out, and long story short, within twenty minutes of him being out there watching, he was now running lines, as we began to flow water. Impromptu drill–done. So what’s special about this? My discipline in “doing something every day” led to a drill that would have otherwise never happened. So I beg the question, who was the leader? Arguably, we each were because we committed the time to learn something new. Taking time to debunk some stretches and flow some water allowed each of us to get better. No one was forced to be out there, yet we all were and an hour flew by. An hour that no one can take away from us.
Getting back on track, how can your people do the right thing if they don’t know what is expected of them? How can you get upset with them, if you’ve never laid out what ideas, goals, and objectives they should be fulfilling? Part of doing the right thing in our trade is fulfilling the expectations placed upon you. As an officer, or even as a firefighter, you’re not wrong to lay forward your expectations, but you must pay close attention to your approach.
1. “Hey, we need to train every day because we suck as a company/department”
2. “Hey guys, training is really important to me, and I would appreciate if, for thirty minutes or so, while I’m out in the bay, that you join me. How awesome is it going to be when we show up second or third due and put someone else’s fire out?”
The differences between statement one and statement two are that you’re treating people with respect and you’re not downgrading anyone or the company. As the old adage goes, “You get more bees with honey!”
There will always be nay-sayers. There will also be that guy, that crew, or that shift that wants to make fun of you for practicing your trade. That’s fine. In the words of my friend Captain Jonah Smith (2016), “I may not be getting better, but what the hell are you doing?”
When going to your crew with a set of expectations, you should be well prepared to explain why you have these expectations whether it’s asked or not. What may not seem like a big deal to a member or two may become a big deal to them when you give them the reason behind the decision; it allows the member to own their role behind the reason (Willink and Babin, 2015). Remember, knowledge base is different for every member and some may not be aware of why a particular detail is important.
When crafting our expectations, we should have one clear objective, and that is to prevent catastrophic failures (Smith, 2016). If we can remain in control of our actions, accept our scope of operations, and work within that scope, we will be successful. If you’re assigned to an engine and you spend more time conducting RIT drills than you do stretching and operating the initial hose line, you just may find yourself in a position where that bailout is necessary. That is not to say RIT and survival are not important, but as an engine, you have one job (House, 2016) and you need to be the best at it.
Define expectations for yourself and your crew and hold yourself accountable. We each have the ability to effect change within our circle of influence; be positive, be a motivator, be a mentor, and watch the wheels start to turn.
– Zach Schleiffer
References: House, Gary. (2016). Smith, J. (2016). FDIC 2016. Willink, J., Babin, L. (2015). Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win. New York, New York; Penguin.
By G. Rice
Those who I work for expect daily that I train, develop, mentor and lead our firefighters. They are a tough bunch to work for. They have some of the highest expectations and constantly watch every move I make. I feel supported in my position and receive the necessary feedback to change my approach or position on any given topic.
Many would think I am speaking about my Assistant Chief of Operations or even possibly my Fire Chief, but I am speaking about the men of my Battalion. It’s important to understand this distinction because I believe we BC’s often lose sight of this. We exist for our men.
I’ve been working for just over a year as a Battalion Chief. My wife recently commented that my white shirts are looking dingy. I already knew this fact. It’s extremely difficult to train with my crews stretching hose, throwing ladders and participating in search drills while wearing these. I’ve smoked many a white shirt and recently spoke with my boss to ask about alternatives. He told me to keep smoking them and that they would buy me new ones this year. That is very reassuring. Not that they will buy new shirts, but affirming that training, sweating alongside my men is where he wants me.
I’m not naive to think that everyone reading this has a similar work environment. Many do not have support both above and below to be successful. So how do we create an environment where these types of attitudes will flourish?
It starts with us, BC’s. I’ve got to ask, when was the last time you PT’d with your men? When was the last time you flowed a line or threw a 24′ ladder? How about performed a search or participated in a Job Task Simulation. How often do you provide feedback, direction, or kudos to those you work for?
I’m calling out BC’s everywhere to ask for you to lead by example. Do you mask up daily and check over your air pack? Do you even have an air pack in the car? How about we start getting out of the car to sweat alongside our men? You know how I know they need a water break? Because I need one. It’s pretty simple. Do we expect our folks to be in gear but find us walking around an accident scene in sunglasses and a vest? Lead by example. It’s really very simple.
It boils down to accountability. We expect it from our company officers but are we being accountable to them? Do we put our officers in a bad way having to field questions about the BC who isn’t geared up? Do as I say, not as I do?
I’ll be attending Nozzle Forward training this November in Houston. This will be my third time through Aaron and his cadre. These guys are smart. Aaron gets it. He often speaks about a movement bubbling up from the bottom. It’s my job to assist my guys who are doing the same within our department. How many “Aaron’s” are in my department? Am I helping each member reach their full potential?
I know I have much to learn. In fact, I know this with every bone in my body. If I do my job correctly, many of my people won’t be working for me as we grow. They’ll be Engineers, Captains and possibly colleagues alongside me. I hope I can keep up with these guys. I hope I can remain relevant in our profession.
So put down your TPS reports and get out with the men. The reports and paperwork will be there when you’re done. Support their careers, mentor and lead.
The Colony Fire Dept
The Colony, Texas
Battalion Chief Garrett Rice
Would you work for you?
This is a great question for all fire service leaders and future leaders. For a moment though, really think about this. Could you work for you? Try to envision being your own leader. Would you respond well to your communication style? Would you react favorably to your own leadership?
Don’t think these are important questions? Think again.
Forbes magazine recently identified that people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers. And that sentiment couldn’t be more true. We’ve all had terrible officers. It’s a touchy subject from the bottom up, which is exactly why fire service leaders should regularly audit themselves. There is no better indicator of how you are doing as a leader than a view from the bottom up.
Successful leadership is not always something you can teach; it’s mostly a social finesse that originates in your character as a human being and your ability to communicate with others. Some people have the ability and execute leadership effortlessly, while others struggle to maintain positive leadership behaviors and relationships with their subordinates. Even successful leaders will sometimes have at least one individual they have difficulty meshing with.
It’s important to reflect on a few questions: Do you jump immediately to negative conclusions or are you constructively supportive? Do you look for someone to blame or do you correct the system so that mistakes don’t reoccur? Do you punish the entire shift for the mistakes of one person or do you mentor individuals? Do you show favoritism without realizing it?
Profession development should be an important part of being a leader. Successful leaders need to be diligent in passing along positive professional skills and likewise, junior level officers should always be eager to absorb the leadership nuggets provided by their superiors.
Feedback Tools: Utilizing a system similar to the annual performance appraisal only reversing the flow of information. Have your firefighters appraise your performance as their leader. It’s important for this
process to remain as anonymous as possible. It’d be an awful position for a firefighter, knowing he needs to communicate something constructive, if he knows it’s not anonymous. One resource that works well is creating a Survey Monkey or Google Survey. They’re free. Giving your firefighters the opportunity to provide you with valuable information about how you can lead them better is feedback gold. As long as everyone takes it seriously. We’ve all been in a position where we WISH we could professionally develop our leaders to be better bosses, the survey gives everyone that opportunity. You might be surprised by what you learn.
Record your communications. I know it sounds too far, but honestly. Record your counseling sessions, mentoring moments, training moments. Watch or listen to them later. Try being completely objective. Pay attention to the tone of your voice, how your sentences are formed, and the manner in which you communicate with others. You might discover things such as passive aggressiveness, cussing, a judging tone, not allowing the other person to communicate their side, positive and or negative trajectories. By positive and negative trajectories I mean, are you yelling at someone who made a mistake and then kicked them out of your office vs. using the mistake as a learning moment to further develop the firefighter. Obviously, one trajectory is negative and the other is positive.
Aside from personal audits and feedback tools it’s incredibly important to exercise regular self-reflection as well as developing a healthy sense of self-awareness. Creating a sense of self-awareness and an awareness of how you are communicating with others takes a measurable amount of emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence is the passcode to both personal and professional success. We all have different personalities, differing expectations, and different ways of communicating. It’s nearly impossible for different individuals to provide the same set of leadership abilities. But we can all learn to develop our emotional intelligence to become less reactionary, more calculated, even tempered, and thought-provoking. Emotional intelligence is a measurable trait. Individuals with a lesser amount of emotional intelligence tend to use anger as a go-to emotion when something doesn’t go right and they also tend to be happy for the wrong reasons. In the next part of this series we’ll dive into emotional intelligence.
In the meantime, we’re attempting to collect data addressing a whole host of firefighter related challenges. Please consider completing short survey so we can conduct one of the largest firefighter studies of it’s kind in the United States. Please share with your crews.
Read more in the Thoughtful Leadership Series
And now, an excerpt from the book Barn Boss Leadership by author Brian Ward.
This particular morning was like any other except I happened to be at home instead of work, waiting on the AC Repairman. I awoke about 0630 to go for my morning run as a fire call came in with an address one road down from my residence in the small town where I volunteer. In this volunteer department, I am a firefighter at rank, and I follow orders instead of the typical giving of them in my career status. While I do not shy away from speaking up, I feel it is important to listen and be respectful with my rookie status (which has it’s benefits – nozzle time). This understanding of leadership versus followership is important to understand as this incident unfolds. This is a key aspect discussed in Barn Boss Leadership concerning what makes teams successful.
The neighbor stated to dispatch that he believes he sees smoke inside the residence, but no one is home. I skipped my morning run and went en route to the call approximately half a mile away. As I turned down the road, I did not see any columns of smoke, and for all I knew, this would be a quick wash down or false alarm. As I got closer to the address stated by dispatch, I did not see any indication of fire. All of a sudden, in a bend in the middle of the road, was the mailbox I was looking for. Quickly, I looked to my right and saw a light wisp of black laminar smoke pushing from a small utility room window on Side A. I had arrived first on scene, established command, provided my size up, and conducted my walk around. It was a two story wood frame single family dwelling with smoke showing from the A/D corner on the first floor. As I made my walk around there were no lights on, all doors were locked and no other signs of fire or smoke showing.
As I started back up the hill towards the road, an additional volunteer showed up, and the two career firefighters on E2 and E4 were seconds later. We immediately exchanged information and transferred command as I rolled back to my firefighter status. One of the firefighters and myself grabbed the 200’ 1.75” pre-connect and took off to the front door. I did use my rookie status to take over the nozzle. We forced entry into the residence, controlling the flow path and not performing uncoordinated ventilation. As we forced the front door, the smoke quickly leveled itself one foot off the floor at the door and five feet in there was zero visibility. The smoke was very laminar and did not appear to be volume or heat pushed at the front door.
We continued performing a search along the right-hand wall, which would lead us to the A/D corner, looking for a door or hallway. After feeling around some furniture and about 20’ in, we found a doorway and made entry. There was a small sense of environmental changes but nothing too alarming, however, we were definitely closer. After about another foot or two, I could hear a crackling, but I still could not see anything. I made entry into the bedroom and felt a definite rush of heat but no fire. I made the decision to quickly discharge my 150 GPM nozzle into the ceiling to cool the environment but careful not to upset the thermal layering. After a few seconds, the heat did dissipate, but I still could not see the fire in this less than ideal condition. These are the ones that scare me the most or maybe you just call it being respectful – you hear it, see the smoke, feel the heat, but you cannot find the seat of the fire.
Let me back up to the night before, at Station 2, where we have our weekly training for volunteers. The goal this particular night was a 200’ hose entanglement drill with a disoriented firefighter. I packed out, flipped my hood over my mask, and went inside the training building. There were pallets, tires, 55-gallon barrels and other obstacles with my hose stacked on/over/under and through (no smoke or fire) – their imagination was in overdrive. The obstacle was to orient yourself and feel your way through the hose entanglement drill. The instructor made it a point to remind his students to always sound the floor making sure to always have a solid floor under you.
Just 12 hours later, as I sit inside this two story burning structure, I am listening to the fire crackle in front of me. Still operating in zero visibility, and nozzle in hand, I told my backup firefighters to prepare to advance. I hit the floor every few inches in front of me hoping that my senses would clue in on any discrepancies. My situational awareness (identify, comprehend and predict), I would say, was heightened as I understand the gravity of making the wrong decision and someone else’s life hanging right there with me. I continued sounding the floor. I felt another door to my right. I pushed it open and sounded the floor one more time. I suddenly felt a buckle of the hardwood floor planks and knew something was not right. I sounded it again and encountered the same result. I immediately told the two firefighters behind me to back out. We had encountered a failure of floor integrity, but I was unsure of the extent. While I am the “rookie,” neither of them hesitated or questioned my decision.
After we regrouped and changed our vantage point of attack, the “fire” was determined to be a slow charring fire in the walls from a lightning strike hours before the actual call. Once the smoke cleared, we went back inside to check for extension and other hotspots. Visibility was greatly improved, so I walked back to where I gave the orders to back out to determine what my senses had told me. The fire had burned through the wall into the flooring system; there was a 6’ hole in the floor only two feet away from where we stopped. The phrase, “Faith in God, Trust in Training” comes to mind. Whether it was the training the night before, luck, or the Grace of God – remembering the basics kept us inches away from danger. I personally thanked the instructors from that night’s training and showed them what they did, so they can share this story the next time they do hose entanglement drills or fire attack drills.
If these guys would have never seen or spoke to me before would they have still listened? This is the value of team building and training, and understanding when to follow and when to lead. Remember the basics of your training and execute it to perfection. Anything can happen in this job, so you better be good at it. Mastery should be your minimum standard. Drill not to get it right but until you cannot get it wrong. The difference may only be inches away…..
Be Safe and Train Hard!
Barn Boss Leadership can be reviewed here: https://www.createspace.com/5952190
Stay tuned for Station-Pride’s Product Review of Barn Boss Leadership!
Barn Boss Leadership, August 2016 publication – A unique blend of fire, science, psychology and fire service history provided by an author who has worked in the largest of metropolitan to the smallest of volunteer departments. True leaders develop their power long before they receive a promotion. This text is designed to provide a guide and self-awareness gut check for individuals of all ranks. However, the emphasis of this text is for the informal leader in the organization, who is the catalyst for action. This text is for the individual who considers mastery the minimum standard.
Brian Ward, Author of Fire Engineering – Training Officer’s Toolbox and Managing Editor/Author for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference by Jones and Bartlett. Brian facilitates programs around the country on emergency response, training and leadership topics in the public and private sector. Founder of FireServiceSLT.com.
As most of you have probably heard, there is growing evidence that the death of a Virginia female firefighter may be the result, in part, of bullying by fellow firefighters.
If that turns out to be true, then it is scary, sad, and shameful to all who bullied her and the profession. There is no reason for it! If it turns out not to be the case, we should not dismiss the subject. Instead, we should have a very clear and lengthy dialogue about the subject of bullying and the treatment of, not only to females but anyone who doesn’t fit the “mold” in our department.
As a former Fire Chief, I ask myself, “Why does it have to be that way?” I have witnessed first hand what female firefighters go through, and I took swift action in cases involving my department. However, I have close friends that are female firefighters, and I hear about the terrible things they go through. They continue to be bullied or simply treated much differently because they aren’t male. It’s absurd, and needs to be addressed. The problem in most situations is that the department leaders are part of the problem or that are too inept as leaders to handle it. The leadership in a lot of departments are part of the “old order” in that they think a female’s place is to be an auxiliary member, a supporting member, a secretary or in the kitchen making sandwiches. They don’t believe or understand that female firefighters are capable of doing this job and doing it well!
An article by CBC News Canada notes that almost every female firefighter in Canada has been bullied in some form or fashion. I would argue that the same goes for the U.S. The opportunity for this type of situation to happen is staggering, and it needs to be addressed at all levels. Verbal or sexual abuse/harassment and hazing are just a few of the most unprofessional forms of mistreatment that are found in the fire service. Why, if we are the professional firefighters or leaders in the community, should we even consider putting up with that type of activity? Are we turning a blind eye to it like we do other things? Are we saying that it’s not our problem? Or are we telling ourselves that it’s not happening or won’t happen in our department? All of those things may help you sleep at night but they are the coward’s way of handling the problem, and they will not promote any real progress on the issue.
So what can we do? Let’s mull over a few things and see where it takes us:
- Promote a dialogue: Your female firefighters may feel that they are unable to talk to you directly because issues should be brought up the chain of command. This issue is of such great importance that it needs to be addressed by you directly. Keep in mind that some of your command staff may be part of the problems, so give your firefighters an opportunity to bring their issue to you.
- Give them some immunity: Your female firefighters should not have any fear of retaliation or disciplinary action for revealing to you that they are getting harassed. They need to know they can count on you to help them, just like you would help one of their brother firefighters.
- Know when to remove yourself: If you are part of the problem then give them an avenue to talk to your boss. You were man enough to be part of the problem, so take what is coming to you. If you are that worried about your career, then you shouldn’t have been a part of the harassment in the first place. Real leaders recognize that they have made a mistake and deal with the consequences. If you are protecting the harassers, then you need to go down with them. You are a cancer on this great profession that needs to be removed.
- Support them as much as you can: When a female firefighter comes to you with a harassment complaint, give them all of the support they need. They may feel like they are on their own and them knowing that they have at least one person in their corner gives them the courage to fight for what is right.
- Make their options clear to them: Make sure they know what steps they need to take to bring a resolution to their situation. Most agencies have a policy for harassment, so make sure they clearly understand what that policy is and how to make their way through it. Make sure all the proper steps are followed. You don’t want to be the reason there was a failure to resolve their issue. You should know the policy better than anyone.
- Don’t judge and don’t be an a**hole: The issue they bring to you is very real. Try to look at it from their perspective and try to understand what they are feeling. The issue at hand may seem trivial to you, but it is important to them. Don’t be condescending or tell them to, “Suck it up; that’s the way it is in the firehouse!” They are most likely describing the tip of an iceberg in your department. If you investigate, you may find that you have a much bigger problem. If your first instinct is to try to hide your findings or dismiss the issue, then you should resign immediately because you don’t deserve to hold the position you have in one of the greatest professions on earth, you COWARD!
- Be the face of change: If you find yourself and your department in the midst of a bullying issue, be a true agent of change. Take all of the steps necessary to fix the problem. That may mean that you need to take disciplinary action against or terminate your “buddies”, but you need to do what the taxpayers pay you to do. It is YOUR responsibility to make it right! NO MATTER WHAT THE COST!
One of my favorite Lieutenants was a female. She taught me a great deal about this job and how to do it well. She was a role model of how to be a good leader. We had many discussions about being a female in a male-dominated profession. She didn’t take any crap from anyone and admitted that it was never easy. “Sometimes you need to be more of a man than they are,” she would say. I found it humorous at the time, but it made sense. She had to teach quite a few firefighters how to be men and how to do this job. She knew that some of them were scared to work with her. She would show them that the job could be done and how to follow a female leader.
I am sure that most of you know a female firefighter and have heard about what they go through. Someone very close to me is a female firefighter, and she has dealt with harassment for many years. Most of her department leaders have brushed off her complaints as “business as usual” in the fire service. Subsequently, she is looking to leave this line of work. She is tired of the macho neanderthals treating her like a second-class citizen even after she has proven herself to be a good (if not better than they are) firefighter. It is sad to see it happen because she had a real passion for the job that got snuffed out by weak Chiefs or department leaders who didn’t have the stones to take on the problem. I wonder how many other great firefighters have given up and left the business because of bullying.
So what are your thoughts? Do you have the ability to see a problem and fix it in your department or are you among those who take the cowards way out and ignore it?
Talk to your female firefighters about bullying. You will be surprised what you hear!