STORMS A COMIN
I came from a family of bricklayers and the only ancestor I can track with any Fire Department background was a distant relative who was the Fire Chief of Swansboro, a working class area of south Richmond. Cersley Street is in Swansboro and I made sure that every Rookie knew where it was.
I came into the department in June of 1974 and I was assigned to the big house on Commerce Rd. There were three fire companies in the house and each company had three officers – a Captain and two Lieutenants. It was easy to spot the good officers and more importantly the firefighters who were worthy of followership. There were many and I am always humbled by the valuable time they gave me.
Our firehouse dog was named Brown Eyes, a purebred mutt, a great storm forecaster and a smart dog who protected the house and brightened up the place. One day we were ordered into dress blues and the fifteen personnel lined up in front of the apparatus. In walked the City Manager, the Director of Public Safety, the Fire Chief and the Battalion Chief. They were there to make speeches and to award us each a city logo coffee cup for not incurring a lost time injury for twelve months.
Just as the City Manager began to speak, Brown Eyes parked himself between the two groups and began grooming the under carriage. As we all tried not to laugh, the City Manager asked us “How long did it take you’ll to train that dog to do that on command?” We received our coffee cups, a great laugh and Brown Eyes received treats.
I recall losing my followership only once as a Firefighter. I wrote charges on a fellow Firefighter for what was a serious violation of policy. I was working as the acting Lieutenant.
For seven shift days after the Officer returned to duty, he completely avoided speaking to me or acknowledging me in any way. On each of these seven shifts, he spent hours coaching the other Firefighter on how to get out of the trouble that he got himself into.
Apparently the other eight house Officers shamed my officer so much that he felt compelled to call me in to discuss the matter. When I entered the office, there were a number of Officers there since they had just completed a house Officer’s meeting. My Captain pointed for me to go into the Captain’s bedroom and there alone sat my Lieutenant.
He told me to shut the door and I told him that I had nothing to hide. He shut the door, which did no good at all since the inner door and the door to the apparatus floor had vents in them and anyone who wanted to hear could do so. He said that he wanted to talk to me about the disciplinary matter. I knew a storm was a comin, but he did not. I told him I had nothing to say to him about the matter since for seven shifts he had coached the other Firefighter and avoided me. I asked him if he knew that I was ordered to write charges by the Battalion Chief and that he had shunned me for doing my job. He said that he did not know that I was ordered to write charges and that he was only concerned that I would get the reputation of writing charges for everything. I concluded the meeting quickly by standing and simply stating that any reputation that I got for following orders should not concern him and that any reputation that I got would be better than his since all that he was famous for was my boot prints going up his back when he laid in the floor without a mask and wished every fire to go out. I slammed the office door and left him sitting with everyone who respected him.
I never regretted losing my composure or my followership. In fact I had looked forward to it. The discussion was overheard by most of my peers and they and the Officers who also heard it realized and acknowledged that they were proud of me for bringing the storm and clearing the air.
My name is Cersley, I’m proud of that.
I won’t mention other names for it serves no common good.
Officers prepare before the storm.
If you have to be shamed into doing the right thing you are not an Officer.
Even Brown Eyes could sense an impending storm.
Good leaders lead and realize that the treatment of followers matters.
Resolve cloudy issues before they develop in storms.
Pay attention to detail and have good timing – Brown Eyes did.
By the way, I have been an Officer since 1979. I did write one other set of charges. The BC ordered me to.
A little history – I hope you laughed and think.
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Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.