1. Do you know your job, or are you striving hard to learn it?2. Will you make the hard but correct decision even if it costs you personally?3. Do you care as much about us as you care about yourself?
The first question the grizzled old gunny posed to the green lieutenant was a simple one: Do you know your job, or are you striving hard to learn it? Notice, no one expects perfection, but the members who entrust their lives to you expect you to be working hard at learning your job. If you don’t know what vacant property security (VPS) is, how to defeat a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) window, how to defeat a hockey puck lock, or if you can’t figure out the friction loss in 150 feet of a 1¾-inch line flowing 150 gallons per minute, then perhaps you’re not yet ready to lead firefighters.
I’m not talking about going into burning buildings or swinging from ropes like Spiderman–for the most part, that stuff is fun. What I’m talking about here is courage! Will you stand up and tell the mayor that an engine company with fewer than four members is ineffective and dangerous, or will you take the easy road and keep quiet and agree with the mayor to protect your job? Will you stand up against a company officer who is needlessly bullying a junior member, or will you hide like a coward in the shadows? Will you nod yes to a stupid idea from the fire chief, or will you respectfully speak up even if it costs you that coveted captain’s position? No one ever said being a leader was easy. It requires courage.
The final question the gunny asked the new lieutenant was, “Do you care as much about us as you do about yourself?” Unfortunately, many fire officers may fail here. They feel that they are better, smarter, and more important than their subordinates. They feel superior. They feel entitled. However, in fact, the officer’s only mission in life is to support the employees who are actually doing the work–take care of them and make sure they have the tools they need to do their job! Are you willing to cover a shift on Christmas day so that the young guy with kids can have off? Do you have compassion? Lt. Howard Carpluk did on August 27, 2007. As he was being slowly being crushed to death in a building collapse, he said, “Save my probie. He’s underneath me.” It’s not about you. It’s about them. Do you have compassion?
LET’S REMIND OURSELVES
It may seem that it is not difficult to possess and demonstrate competence, courage, and compassion. Judging by the lack of leadership in many of our nation’s firehouses, however, it appears that we would all do well to post three little questions on our desks:
The following is a brief list of suggested titles to get you started developing the 3 Cs of Leadership:
1. Brannigan, Francis. Building Construction for the Fire Service 3rd ed. NFPA 1992.
1. United States of America’s Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients and Their Official Citations. Highland Press, 1980.
1. Athens, Art. Capstone Lecture. United States Naval Academy. http://www.usna.edu/Ethics/.