The other day I had a chance to take a transfer to a neighboring station and found our battalion chief standing by the engine with the station’s rookie. Not ever wanting to miss a chance to talk shop, I stuck around, and over the next three hours, we took turns asking the rookie questions about the fire engine, discussing the role of the driver pump operator and backseat firefighter and offering some of our own lessons learned over the years. The three of us ended up taking turns pulling out and discussing the nuances of each piece of equipment as well.
The chief did all of this while monitoring the radio, answering phone calls from other stations, and even had to come back after dinner after we were interrupted by a call. If you want the cliff note version of what we talked about, the chief spoke passionately to the rookie about the importance of developing an ownership mentality for the station and the equipment assigned to it. He stressed that details matter in this line of work, but so does keeping it simple when it’s appropriate. Without a doubt, he left a powerful impression that knowing and being into your job is important. Everyone in his battalion knows that this standard of knowledge is expected of them, not because he goes around preaching it or from having a catchy phrase; it’s because he consistently models it himself. He understands that leaders set the tone, and they don’t accomplish this from the bleachers.
A Lieutenant I know recently shared a story about two fire chiefs on the fireground. The first chief jumped up on the engine and helped pack five-inch, completely dirtying his Class A uniform in the process. He then walked handlines and stuck around to chat with the guys when everything else was done. The second chief, after seeing the first chief start to work, went and got his work-gloves from his SUV. The work gloves were still in the plastic bag, their pure whiteness indicating that they had clearly never been used before. The chief then proceeded to walk around the fire ground looking for something to do. In the end, he never actually touched any equipment and the gloves went back in the bag as white as they had come out. His body language was clearly annoyed that he felt pressured to lend a hand by the other chief’s example. Unfortunately, this same level of apathy and privilege from having to work showed up in much of his work, and bled through his battalion regularly. So which one of these types of leaders do you want to be?
Call to Action: -Stop complaining about the hiring pool. I hear leaders complain a lot about how uncertain the future of the fire service is because of who we hire. This sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether your organization fails or succeeds isn’t determined by who it hires; the outcome is 100% influenced by who the organization decides should get the chance to lead them. Organizations reap the employees they take the time to sow. The farmer knows he doesn’t just get to throw the seed at the ground and then yell at it when it fails to take root and grow. He knows that the act of planting that seed is a commitment to then getting their hands dirty in the soil to make sure it gets what it needs to thrive. Reps=Growth. -Stop throwing a pity party every time someone tells you the word NO. Leaders need to set aside the bravado for whatever reason we have developed. I see it every day on Facebook and listen to it plenty visiting firehouse kitchen tables. It looks like the scene from Finding Nemo with the Seagulls screaming “MINE, MINE, MINE...”. Enough of the amateur pity parties of what has or hasn’t the fire service done for me. Try modeling what acting like professional looks like. -Stop thinking you don’t matter. The future of the fire service is in the hands of today’s leadership. I don’t know about you, but for me, I’d rather the future be in the hands of the battalion chief who in this story demonstrates intentionality about spending time and working alongside his guys and girls to help develop them. If we leave the future to the leaders whose gloves are white and unused, I’ll agree that we could be in trouble. Remember, only clowns wear white gloves. Don’t be a clown.
Author Bio: Benjamin Martin provides leadership training workshops and keynotes internationally and throughout the United States. He blends over 18 years of public safety experience with his ongoing Ph.D. study of human behavior and motivation to provide an entertaining and unfiltered view on a variety of leadership topics such as communication, command and control strategies, conflict management, and emotional intelligence. He is the founder of the popular website and leadership movement EmbraceTheResistance.com, which features leadership training for existing and aspiring leaders.
In addition to his leadership blogs, he is a contributing author to several leadership books and has published articles in Fire Engineering, FireRescue, Fire Department Training Network (FDTN), International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI), FirefighterToolbox, and FirefighterWife. He currently serves as a Captain with a large metro fire department in Virginia. You can email him at BMartin@EmbraceTheResistance.com.