BY RICK LASKY
For the past 10 months through this Pride and Ownership series, we have discussed again and again just how great this profession of ours is. The fire service! We started off back then by taking a look at our Mission and why we do what we do and what it’s all about. Then we got into the kind of person it takes to carry out our mission, that being the Firefighter and the devotion and commitment it takes from day one to be good at what we do. And we said if you don’t like it, if you’re not willing to take care of each other, defend our family, then GET OUT!
We realized that to ensure that our firefighters could do what they needed to do and grow within their careers, we needed someone to guide them, mentor them, and build that path for success; we called that person the Company Officer. But, all good teams need coaches, good coaches-people who can work with those company officers so that they can help and mentor those firefighters in the best way possible. And at that point, we realized and understood who our battalion chiefs were and what they did for all of us. We knew who really made it happen in our business, those firefighters, company officers, and battalion chiefs, but we also knew that for them to succeed as a team, to really make a difference, they needed the support and understanding of someone who truly understood and appreciated them-The Chief! And not just any chief or person who hangs “five” on their collars, but someone who truly does care-cares more about the troops, the staff, and the overall mission than about himself.
That in itself, finding that kind of person, can be difficult. But the same goes for the firefighters, company officers, and battalion chiefs we talked about. Anyone can show up at the firehouse and say “I’m a firefighter” or “I’m your company officer” or “I’m the battalion chief for ‘A’ shift” and not say anything more than just those words.
We discussed those who work against us and our mission, but we also realized that these types of officers are few and far between, that the vast majority of the people in our family are good, hard working, and dependable and want nothing more than to make a difference in other people’s lives.
But boy, it gets really hard to keep a lid on this whole thing when you have as a chief someone who just doesn’t care. That whole “It’s hard to soar with eagles when I’m surrounded by turkeys” saying, at times, needs to be modified. A chief should say, “Before I look for eagles, I need to look in the mirror and see what kind of feathers I’m wearing.” With that kind of accountability and understanding at the top, you quickly end up saying, “Man, look at all that we’re doing and getting done.” That kind of environment gets you quickly to where you’re saying, “There is no telling what we’re going to get done; the sky’s the limit.”
This group of people, though, the fire service, because of the very nature of the work and how firefighters must interact with each other, has become a very close-knit family-a style of family like no other, though it is often sought after by others especially in the private sector.
We also noted that we adjusted to having two families, Our Two Families, the one at work and the one waiting at home. We realize that the one at home was the first family, and we became very protective of both. Then because of both, we took a hard look at some of the areas that have given us problems, hurt us-or worse-killed us.
Sweating the Small Stuff looked at those “small things” some people feel we don’t need to worry about but which almost always come back to haunt us. Next, we got into the challenges of preparing for the promotional process and successfully completing the process and into realizing, in Changing Shirts, that the adjustment from buddy to boss can be very difficult. It involves learning how to supervise and leading those looking up to you and making decisions and choices on their behalf because it’s the right thing to do, not the most popular.
Later we took an honest look at what September 11 did to us and for us, and that “NEVER FORGETTING MEANS NEVER FORGETTING!” We got back into the Ceremonies that do us proud and are deserved and much needed to preserve our heritage. And just recently, we talked again about Marketing our Mission, our departments, US, and what we’re all about-and how crucial it is if we’re going to survive in today’s economy.
But when we take a good look at all of these things, we get to a point where we realize that to truly make it all happen, really happen, and take care of number one, you have to care, work hard, set your priorities, and be brutally honest with yourself. Are we living up to our expectations and those of the people around us? It’s not just a matter of what the boss expects of me but what those next to me and below me expect. Only then will we know that we are taking care of number one.
Sounds kind of selfish, doesn’t it? Firefighters thinking of themselves first. It doesn’t seem to fit, or does it? To commit to a life of selflessness and be good at it, you have to take care of yourself first-healthwise, “mindwise,” at home, and at work, and you must continue to do so throughout your life. Those who run themselves into the ground or don’t take care of themselves and forget about their priorities will struggle in the long run.
At the firehouse, how good are you? How much do you know? How much are you willing to learn, and what energy level are you working at-low, medium, or high? When we dip to the low side, we suffer and bad things tend to happen. Remember how much attitude plays into it.
You have to set your goals and prioritize them. Identify the steps or objectives it will take to get you there. So many people never realize when they reach a goal they have set for themselves because they were never shown how to realize they are successful and how to embrace that success. On occasion, a firefighter or a company officer will walk in and sit down and begin to explain that he is feeling as if he were in a rut, like he is not contributing. Often, what these individuals forget to do is to see where they are relative to the goals they set. If they set attainable goals and achieved them, it’s just a matter of their realizing that they are successful.
We get so wrapped up in our jobs and are in such a hurry to get this done or that done so we can move on to the next project that we sometimes get to where we wanted to go or may be in the first place and may not even realize it! If that’s the case, give your body a break or a timeout and a chance to catch up and enjoy it. Embrace success!
But first, you have to be able to recognize it. Then when you catch your breath, reexamine your current list of goals and objectives, reprioritize them, and move ahead. But, don’t to forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Stop to smell the roses just for a minute. Remember what success feels like and that it’s okay to feel good about it. Otherwise, you’ll get frustrated and feel empty and unappreciated, like you’re stuck in a rut, and you will eventually burn out. It’s almost like what happened to a lot of folks when they went to direct deposit with their paychecks. When the check didn’t pass through their hands, when they didn’t see a return from their hard work, they felt as if they didn’t accomplish anything. They say it leaves some people with a void, an empty spot, almost like they didn’t finish something. Obviously, with the Internet today and banking the way it is, we see less and less of it, but it serves as a fair comparison.
One last thing about embracing success: You have to learn from it as much as you learn from your failures. We sometimes forget to look at it both ways and focus on the failure side more. Not taking the time to learn from success can lead to mediocrity down the road. If we fail to do that, we won’t know where the next level is, where to set the bar, or how to employ the same strategy and methods to achieve other goals. We need to look at both sides to keep it all on track and moving in the right direction.
Stay fresh. Hang around people with good attitudes. Continue to make your mark in the fire service and say to yourself on a regular basis, “Wow, what this place could be if …” and then see what you can do to get it there.
RICK LASKY, a 25-year veteran of the fire service, is chief of the Lewisville (TX) Fire Department. Previously, he was chief of the Coeur d’Alene (ID) Fire Department and training officer for the Darien-Woodridge (IL) and Bedford Park (IL) Fire Departments. While in Illinois, he taught at the Illinois Fire Service Institute and Illinois Fire Chiefs’ Association and received the 1996 International Society of Fire Service Instructors “Innovator of the Year” award for his part in developing the “Saving Our Own” program. He is the lead instructor for H.O.T. Firefighter Survival program at FDIC West and is co-lead instructor for the program at FDIC and FDIC East. He is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering and serves on the FDIC, FDIC West, and FDIC East advisory boards.