It’s not just in the fire service: It’s everywhere! We visit fire stations, talk to those around the country, and read about them every day. “This guy has a lot to offer” “She’s going to turn this department around” “He has 3 college degrees”.
I can remember working for a chief who was in the right place at the right time, but couldn't talk tactics with the members, for he lacked the real world experience. Going to "jobs" is the most rewarding part of our career, laying stakes on the viable fortitude of being able to do the job! That day arises when you stop at the station and your team wants and needs answers!
Everywhere you look there are people that are making outrageous claims of future success without any prior accomplishments or foundation built to achieve that success. Yes, I am talking about those who have failed to ride a fire truck to jobs, those who have seen little action (or none), those that have checked a box to get to where they are. Not only does this create a false buzz amongst the fire service community, it has the ability to create a delusion of false hope within the firehouse and team. Such delusions send humility out the door and welcome arrogance, self-entitlement and narcissism with open arms. In a world of hate, jealousy and back stabbing, it is great to hear nice words but in reality: Most of these people are just blowing smoke up your a**.
Adoration by your peers has to be taken with a grain of salt and understood that not everyone’s word carries the same weight. That is not to say you do not value certain people’s compliments and that is not to say you do not thank and appreciate them. You most certainly do. This is not a suggestion that you should act unprofessional.
What I’m trying to say is, if a successful fire service leader (mentor) told you that you have the ability to be a great leader in the fire service, you should listen, recognize, respect and follow through on that compliment. They are/were the best of the best in the fire service and have worked with some great leaders throughout the years. For them to pinpoint you, is a great honor, potential foreshadowing and compliment.
In contrast, as you gain popularity and your fan base augments, you may start to receive compliments in extreme measure such as “future Chief” “fireman’s fire chief” “salty chief”. As I said before, you smile, thank that person for their support and the kind words because he could have easily told you, you need to go back to fire school. Chances are, though, that person is a fan of yours and looks up to you and your abilities on and off the fire ground. That person may or may not understand the process of what it takes to get to the top like “Chief Salka” would. This does not mean to dismiss a supporters nice words about you, it means to not let your ego get so inflated that you become the fire department a****** in the process.
I live my life as an underdog. I don’t expect first class plane tickets and a personal assistant to carry my gear bag or laptop. I don’t expect a job contract on my kitchen table or my name in the Sunday newspaper. I don’t even expect praise from supporters on social media. My approach is to wait until the bell rings when it’s time to emerge and go to work, showing my capabilities under stress. I see firefighters and fire officers everywhere and anywhere getting hooked up with the wrong fire departments, coupling up with the wrong crowd, being spoon fed their promotion, and a free ride to retirement. Some of it is deserved but more often, it’s not. The fact that I’ve never been handed anything, has led me to be humble in my career, keeping me motivated and bettering my position for the time to act.
In reality, I feel pinning someone before they’ve accomplished anything is doing a disservice to the fire service and the communities we serve, especially an egocentric firefighter/fire officer. The last thing needed in this business is a bunch of “yes” men telling firefighters they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. They’ll get thrown off their game and start to believe the hype. Believing and reading into your own hype is a sure fire way to think you don’t need to sweat, bleed, or work harder than the next guy. This is a recipe for disaster when it comes to hitting the podium and all that hype, hoopla and hysteria. This isn’t going to save you when you’re compared side by side with nowhere to run, to a guy who’s toiled several years of going to jobs, learning street smart tactics, managing several companies and alarms at the command post, and life-long learning, without seeing the darkness this business has to offer…