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I encourage young people to read and study the writings and speeches of Captain Tom Brennan, FDNY, including Brunacini/Brennan Unplugged FDIC 2003 and everything else that you can find.  I did not know Tom Brennan, I wish I had, but I surely liked his style.

Captain Tom Brennan was one who always left the audience with some important take away from his presentations. He was a great thinker and a great teacher who was able to present his thoughts to others in a way that was understandable and easily taken home. His love for the Fire Service was demonstrated through his words and his professional analysis of his experiences that helped define him as a leader. He made you feel like he was the guy next door. We should all be so lucky to have such a neighbor.

On leadership from the 2003 Unplugged:

“… I have to differ with you. I think Leadership is standing in the background and watching the system run very well.”

“One of the things we did at every situation we ever had was to run a critique, where each person believed that whatever he said was OK…We did that 22 times on Monday, 14 times on Tuesday. Eventually, not only did that run itself, but each of the team members would be able to pick out by themselves what could have been done better. I think I had six leaders then; if I fell down, nothing was going to go wrong with that operation, I think.”

I especially enjoyed the takeaway from a story Captain Brennan told at a symposium in Phoenix. He was prompted to tell the story to close out the unplugged session.

The story was told that during the busy years of FDNY, Captain Brennan ran a very busy fire company. One of his Firemen was a small framed Italian fellow who was an especially good cook. One morning he offered to prepare a favorite Italian dish for the crew. It was homemade lasagna and it was Captain Brennan’s favorite firehouse meal.

On this particular day, the district was as usual very busy. The smell of the baking lasagna filled the firehouse and everyone was looking forward to the fine meal.

Captain Brennan said that as he sat down with his hot plate of lasagna and his mouth was watering in anticipation, a fire box came in. They had already responded to this same box a number of times for false calls, during this tour. Also in the firehouse that evening was a NYPD mounted officer who had stopped by for dinner. His very tall horse was tied on the apparatus floor.

The firehouse chef offered to go check the box while the rest of the crew enjoyed their meal. The Captain agreed. He said that he remembered hearing noises from the apparatus floor, but they were easily masked by the smell of this great meal.

As the story went, as the small Fireman prepared to go check the box, he noticed this perfectly good police horse. He grabbed a hook and he and the horse went to check the box. 

He arrived at the box and found nothing and as he leaned down to open and reset the box with the hook, the District Chief rolled up. The Chief called him by name and asked him what he was doing, since the obvious was a bit unusual.  

“Resetting the box Chief.”

The box was reset, the horse and rider returned safely to the firehouse and Captain Brennan ate too much lasagna.

What is my take away from this story from so long ago?

Special crews, special Leaders and great chefs are a found treasure.

We are all leaders, know the district and do the things that make the team great, critique/reset the box.

Be creative, know multiple uses for every tool, use what is available, think, think and think.

Be respectful, honest and to the point.

Teach team members to lead and trust them.

We need not react to everything.

Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.

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