Usually nothing is better than the original and that holds true with mission statements. Departments all over have severely missed the mark by a compelling desire to outdo each other with prolific works that are turned into posters and plaques. These words are assembled by groups or by individuals who wish impart their signature on the organization. Saving lives and property isn’t good enough so we find ourselves in competition with corporate America in a battle of who can use the most popular and trendy buzz words of the day. No matter how hard we try they mean nothing to the firefighter who joined the fire department out of a calling to serve the community. A calling to sacrifice in order to serve. A calling to put others needs before their own safety and take calculated risks in order to intervene and interrupt the chain of bad things happening so that another human being can be removed from harm.
We wonder what is happening as the culture war evolves within the fire service between those who preach safety through no action and take no risks and those who believe safety is found in competence and expertise applied through prevention, extinguishment and rescue. Doesn't the original mission speak to the “why” we have fire departments? "To save lives and property". Ah ha! Maybe that’s it! None of these new corporate style mission statements address "why"! Many have forgotten why as they get caught up in the bureaucracies and business of the organization. Much like a young incident management team getting so caught up in developing the IAP they forget they are there to take action and make a difference in the incident. In the distraction we have forgotten to tell the newer generations of firefighters “why” we do what we do and we have only focused on telling them “what” we do and “how” we do it. What and how have no meaning and no purpose without “why”.
"To serve and protect”… was an original police mission and was even used by some fire departments back before we tried to become sophisticated and work our way away from being a trade into a more white collar profession. A profession that looks down on those who only know the trade and have expertise in the tasks that must be done to fulfill the “why”. A child constantly asks, “Why daddy?” because they are seeking the purpose and a full understanding. But why? But why? How come?
There are so many in the chief’s ranks that want to be famous instead of focusing on the basics. They rush out and tell us they have a new plan or they tell us what to do. They change our patches and uniforms to what they want because it gives them an instant gratification. “I am in charge!”, they shout as they look in the mirror. They change the mission statement to further tell us how and what to do. Their attempt at saving us from ourselves only takes away the creativity and removes us further from the “why” we do what we do. These types don't want us to know why they just want us to do it their way because it makes them feel important and they actually believe its the way to fame and recognition.
Look at your mission statement and then take 18 minutes to watch the video at the end of the blog. Please note it is about how to inspire “action” not “inaction”. Yes, the video gets a little deep for those of us who like to break things and search but just give it the full 18 minutes (especially all you instructor types). Maybe it’s a clue into “why” this culture war continues to ramp up. Why – How – What. This short video addresses the root cultural differences of the fire service without mentioning us at all. It speaks to chiefs and company officers everywhere. Sometimes we need to hear it from someone outside our little corner of the world. If we keep saying our customers are #2 and that we are more important, our customers will eventually get the message and they will let us go. If we just keep telling them what we do then the same will be true. There won’t be a need for what we do or what we don’t do anymore.
So why do we do what we do? - To save lives and property!