Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Warrior Mentality - by David Rhodes
I was disturbed when I heard a fire service leader state that “we need to get rid of the fire service of the firefighter warrior mentality” and although the context of discussion was interior firefighting and firefighter safety I thought of one of my favorite military quotes:
“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” – Heraclitus
The definition of warrior is: “A brave or experienced soldier or fighter” Do we really want to rid ourselves of that?
So if we apply the quote to a fire department we could paraphrase, “Out of every one hundred firefighters, ten should have never been hired, eighty are there to help clean the stations, nine have good situational awareness and know their job and we are lucky to have them, for they put out the fires and make the rescues. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will go beyond knowing his job he will be strong and smart and will bring the others home.”
Why would we not recruit and test for warriors? Maybe it was a bad choice of words and I hope the intent was that we need to rid the fire service of ignorance and not of warriors. When I think of warriors I think of the modern Special Forces. I think of the enormous training programs and challenges that these individuals and units go through to be prepared, adaptable and competent. But before they could get to that warrior status they had to first have the warrior mentality (a form of mental toughness). I also think of specific firefighters and officers who seem to always be prepared, who are constantly drilling and learning and critiquing. Those who take physical fitness seriously and understand that just hanging out at the firehouse and watching Jerry Springer or playing video games is not preparing them for the battles they face.
Unfortunately there seems to be an attack on those that are the backbone of most fire ground operations. These are the go-getters, the self-motivated, the ones who are willing to risk a lot to save a life instead of going defensive at the site of flames venting from two windows on a dark night. They know that 9 of the 10 rooms can still be searched. They know that fully involved is different than fire showing. They are constantly learning, studying, reading because they want to have every advantage they can get when it is time to fight.
Somehow these fire service warriors have been lumped in with a group of self-proclaimed warriors that haven’t put in the effort learning tactics, strategy, building construction, fire behavior, the capabilities and limits of equipment. They believe that just being tough is enough to gain warrior status. They don’t think, or size up, or plan, or study, or learn, they just charge! This sounds horrible doesn’t it, chiefs? This group has a great love for the job but they just haven’t figured out that it’s about the service and team and not themselves and a good time. This group can be educated, trained, directed, coached and some will become good warriors. Unfortunately, much effort goes into stopping this group while those who do nothing keep on hiding with a blown O ring, equipment malfunctions that always prevent their ability to go in, they do a little house work, stay quiet and just keep on doing nothing. But they are rarely attacked by the decision makers. They are left to enjoy a peaceful career of pay check collecting.
The modern day warrior is strong, smart, has heart and courage. They are not always the most popular because they don’t always tell you what you want to hear. The military warrior doesn’t want to take on a machine gunner with a knife and it is not his first choice. But if that is all he has he knows to modify his plan to fit his resources to get the job done. He also knows patience and studies his opponent and the weapons of his opponent.
As a battalion chief I would always want to have to hold someone back instead of having to push them in. So let’s stop the assault on the fire warrior and or the warrior mentality. Let’s focus on educating those in the 80 to be as proficient at the basics as possible. Let’s push the 9 to challenge themselves mentally and physically with advanced training and let’s get rid of the 10 that we should have never hired and replace them with candidates that have a warrior mentality. What about the one you ask? Turn them loose and let them do their thing, let them influence the others. Give them encouragement, gratitude, trust and freedom. They will bring the others home! If you can’t do that for them, they will eventually just go home themselves and move on to something else where they feel they can contribute and be appreciated.
Don’t ever be ashamed or suppress your warrior mentality. The fire service, the citizens and the nation needs you.