This motivational phrase is certainly not new. In-fact, its origin is quite unique. As you may have seen in the movie "Apollo 13", actor Ed Harris who plays the famous NASA Flight Director/Manager Gene Kranz says the phrase as he's addressing his staff, during a stress filled, hectic moment. Truth be told, Gene Kranz never actually said those exact words. It was derived from an interview that was done by the producers of the movie. During the interview, Kranz was asked "Weren't there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked (in NASA Mission Control)?" His answer was "No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution." From that point on, "Failure Is Not An Option" became the tag line of the movie.
Since I was a very young child, I have had a passion for the fire service and every thing that comes with it. As I've displayed on my blog site (www.workingfirechief.com), there are a number of mentors and influential people who have had a large impact on my life. All of whom set me on what I'd like to consider "the right path". If there was one common lesson that all of them passed down to me, it was to live by the "Failure Is Not An Option" motto. Figuratively speaking, it was beaten into my head.
Since age 16, I have served with fire departments in Prince George's County (Maryland), Loudoun County (Virginia) and Washington, DC. It's safe to say that many of the people I've had the privilege to work for and with possessed a like mindset. This afforded me with a great working environment and the ability to look at the fire service in a positive manner. Unfortunately, it seems as if this isn't always the case in some departments.
A few years into serving as the Chief of the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department, the leadership decided to make "Failure Is Not An Option" a way of life. Instilling it into everyone that walked through the doors of the busy firehouse. It became such an expectation, that a very large construction grade sign, displaying the words, was placed on the wall in the engine room. It has sense become the norm within the rank and file.
Obviously nothing in life is perfect. As odd as it may sound, mistakes have to be acceptable. In-fact, you have to make several mistakes in order to learn the best way to accomplish things. As many seasoned firefighters will tell you, "its not how horrible you mess-up... its how well you're able to recover". Those same seasoned firefighters will also tell you that the only way to become good at this is by never giving up.... never accepting failure.
In today's technologically advanced world, it has become easy to see different types of mistakes/failures in the fire service on a routine basis. Whether its from a citizens video recording or the increasingly popular firefighter helmet cams. There are even several fire service based websites and blogs related to all of the aforementioned forms of media. Unfortunately, most times the videos are critiqued by the ever famous "Firefighter Anonymous" and the comments section begins to resemble a fierce digital domestic dispute. Ultimately, very little is learned from them and the younger firefighters, that are starving to become better, are left without a positive direction to go in.
We must strive to make "Failure Is Not An Option" a way of life in the fire service. We can not accept nor breed mediocrity. Although there will always be "bumps in the road", we must dust ourselves off and continue to be as good as we can be. Most of this can be done by continuous "practical" drilling. Learning how to quickly/efficiently stretch hose lines, place ladders, complete searches and proper size-ups of buildings are only a few of the areas we need to excel in. Another arena we must better ourselves in is the way that we treat our fellow firefighters. If you are familiar with any of the studies done by the Volunteer Fire Council or the IAFF, you may have seen that an increasing number of individuals leave the fire service because of oversized egos and lack of camaraderie. Hearing this is certainly hard to imagine. Especially when you think about the fire service of old and the cohesiveness of it.
The simple fact is, each and every one of us has taken an oath and/or responsibility to do our best for the citizens we serve. In addition to this, we also have the responsibility to gather as much knowledge as possible and pass it on to each person that will listen. We must carry on the tradition of being mentors to the younger generations. All of this will make us the best that we can be. When our time of influence has ended, we will have comfort knowing we never gave up.