Firefighter NED: Leading by Example

By Danny Moran

A professional firefighter must be a student of the fire service for the duration of his career. Students do research, read, and prepare for tests by studying course material. A firefighter’s job is no different. Firefighters should always do research, read, and prepare for tests as well. Obviously, that is what we do for promotional exams. However, the student’s role—nor the testing process—ends there. A firefighter should always be ready for a daily test: a test of courage, strength, or knowledge. It is for these tests that a firefighter should be a career student of the profession.

When you consider yourself a student of the fire service, you can always find things in life that apply to the job. For instance, I recently learned something from my son that absolutely applies to life at the firehouse. He came home from school and told me about a new friend at school named Ned. He said the teacher told him Ned was a friend of everyone. After I laughed and said, "Ned sounds like a popular guy", I learned that NED is actually an acronym for Never give up, Encourage others, and Do your best. With NED, I immediately realized that my seven-year-old just taught me a lesson that applies to life as a firefighter.

One thing I truly love about the fire service is the little nuggets that are passed down through the generations, the classic one liners and fire service truths. I added NED to my list of favorite fire service truths, and I would like to introduce this "new guy" to you today.

 

Never Give Up

When I think about the phrase “never give up” in the firehouse, the first thing that comes to my mind is the concept of firefighter survival training and the associated essential skillset. Firefighter survival training has been completely reformed throughout the years. I remember basic survival training during the fire academy going something like this: perform tasks on air while wearing a blackout mask, wait for a low-air alarm to sound, and find your way out. If you didn't find your way out, the instructor says, “Nice job. You're dead.” We trained ourselves to have a muscle memory for dying. A phrase like "never give up" is what we now drill into the minds of a young recruit. It's also the mindset we try to instill in our senior members who never have completed a firefighter survival training program like those available today. A never-give-up mindset is crucial for today's firefighters. It empowers the firefighter with the mental will to survive. When faced with a life-or-death situation, there's no time to think about what to do. By having a never-give-up attitude before facing such a challenge, a firefighter's gut reaction will be to survive, which will allow thinking outside the box to be more natural to achieve survival. This mentality also prepares the firefighter for such situations by ensuring there are tools, webbing, and escape rope in our pockets. The never-give-up way of thinking also demands proficiency in skills such as bailing out, wall breaching, low/reduced profiling, complete air pack removal, and firefighter rescue scenarios such as the Denver Drill and the Nance Drill.

Aside from firefighter survival situations, a never-give-up mindset will help prepare firefighters in other settings. When a hoseline comes up short in a stretch, there must be a rapid decision made on how to extend the line. When a tool breaks or is ineffective during a vehicle extrication, a new tool or tactic must be employed to effect the rescue. The bottom line is, in all aspects of the job, you are the public's last line of defense. People are counting on you to get the job done, and by never giving up that fight you can rest assured that you and your crew will be able to adapt and overcome whatever obstacle lies in your path. This is a leader's way of life. Never give up.

 

Encourage Others

Brotherhood: It's what the average Joe does not get and never will. Sitting behind a desk crunching numbers and beating deadlines does not compare to the brotherhood shared by individuals who step into a firehouse to back their fellow brothers in a call to duty. We must always encourage each other to help keep the brotherhood alive. During times of success and times of failure, we encourage on and off the job. A pat on the back from a brother firefighter goes a long way. Sometimes, it's easy to get caught up in company pride and talk trash around the kitchen table about others, but it is very important to remember that we are all in it together.

I love reading Father Mychal Judge's last homily to the members of the Fire Department of New York on September 10th, 2001. In this homily, he says, "Love each other, work together, and keep supporting one another. We all love the job." How true this is. A leader must encourage his troops in battle, and those troops will reciprocate that encouragement among themselves. Remember, we all have the same goal when we walk into the firehouse: to answer our call of duty in which we swore to protect the citizens as well as our brothers to ensure we all go home. If you cannot do either one of those, then you need encouragement to go somewhere else.

Equally important is encouragement while off duty. It has always been taboo in the fire service to talk freely about personal struggles. This has led to unnecessary problems off the job: addictions; marital issues; money issues; run-ins with law enforcement; and, unfortunately, way too many suicides. A true leader must not be afraid to support and encourage his troops through times like these. At times, it seems as though firefighter suicide becomes an epidemic. Many large, well-respected departments have experienced many of these unfortunate events. Do not be afraid to talk to someone in your firehouse about your personal struggles. You just may have a member of your crew going through a similar situation and will be in need of some encouragement and advice.

There are way too many avenues of help that are available to us; sometimes they are provided by former and current firefighters who have been in similar situations and have succeeded in getting help. Encouragement within the brotherhood is paramount, and it needs to start from the top. If you want to be a good leader in your department, show a genuine interest in the personal lives of your co-workers, and support them and their families when they need it. Many times, as personnel rise through the ranks of a department, on their way to being a boss, the personal touch with members of less rank is lost along the way. Although the personnel of lesser rank are looking for someone to be a boss, they are also seeking that personal touch of support and encouragement that a good leader must possess. Also, encourage other department members when they are promoted. Like a pat on the back, a phone call from a brother to say congratulations and good luck goes a long way. Don’t miss out on opportunities to encourage others at your department.

 

Do Your Best

With a never-give-up demeanor and encouragement and support from the brotherhood, performing at your best will be commonplace. Isn’t being the best what we all strive for? I want my company to be the best in town. The only way that can happen is by thinking as if your company is the best company in town. If you don’t think you are the best, then who will? Think like the best to do your best, and you will be the best. Train and practice the basics. Make it a goal to do a quick drill every single day. In fact, you can even encourage others in your firehouse to come up with an idea for training.

When I was a probie, a wise officer told me to always leave the rig and the firehouse better than it was when you found it. I never forgot that. It helped me to do my best, always, and hearing that over and over again in my head never allowed any slack or complacency to creep into my methods of operating. To this day, because of the leaders I had as a probie, complacency has not had an opportunity to creep its way into my firehouse routines. Routines and habits take time to establish. Attempting to change a routine or habit is a big challenge. Challenge yourself to always do your best. It will take some time to change bad habits, but once you commit to the effort and focus all energy to be consistent in striving to be the best, doing your best will eventually become a habit. It will be automatic. Strive to be best at all times, never accept complacency.

Anything that is worth doing in life is never easy. If you want to do great things with your career, it will take a lot of hard work to get there. Sometimes, after leaving the firehouse, I ask myself if I could have done anything better in the last 24 hours. Did I give it my all on each incident and with life around the firehouse? Next time you leave your firehouse, ask yourself those questions. Are there any habits you need to change? In the wise words of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

NED: It started out as an after school conversation with my son and opened my eyes to see that NED is the firefighter that I learned about when I was a probie. NED is the firefighter we should all strive to be and the habits that should form who we are as firefighters and leaders. A good leader must possess these qualities. Leading by example is not just a catchy saying; it must be practiced. By always giving your best, encouraging the troops, and never giving up the fight, good habits and routines will be natural in your firehouse.

 

Danny Moran is a lieutenant with the Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire Department ,where he is assigned to Engine Co. 46. Moran is a fire service instructor III and LFTI at Miami Dade College School of Fire Science. He assists with coordination of the Fort Lauderdale Fire Expo, where he is also a H.O.T. instructor. He has also instructed engine company classes at the Orlando Fire Conference. Moran is the president of South Florida FOOLS and has a bachelor's of science degree in criminal justice from Florida International University.

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