In the present time, it is hard to ignore the national politics as we gear up for 2016 presidential elections. The republican and democratic parties are waging an all-out media assault, while trying to persuade the American people that their candidate is best for the position. The beginning of the mudslinging campaigns have started, and opinions of what will become of America are at an all-time high. Can this be related to the fire station life? I mean, the definition of politics is "the practice and theory of influencing people." The answer is absolutely.
The political game is simple. There are formal and informal politics. Formal politics are based on government systems at various levels, with representatives elected by the people (in theory). The fire service has tremendous support in formal politics. The Congressional Fire Services Institute has a sole mission in DC, to keep the firefighters wellbeing in the national spotlight. In addition, representatives from the IAFF, IAFC, ISFSI, and many others consistently voice their concerns and attend congressional events on the hill supporting important legislation and defending financial cuts. However, this is not about formal politics, this is about the informal politics involved in day to day operations.
Remember, politics is the practice of influencing others, and most firefighters are specialists at the game. Informal politics, is influencing a group of people without political gain. Creation of alliances, stressing the importance of ideas, and promoting/resisting change are all informal political strategies. Many times the phrase to explain why something didn't work is, "that's politics", or “got to love politics." Unfortunately, and without full understanding, the statement is true.
Influenced based decisions have been made from a very young age. Think about it. As a child it mattered what style of clothes you wore, the brand of shoes, what team you cheered for, and even what foods you ate. The influence came from parental ideals, sports stars, and even cartoon/TV characters. As we aged, we are more influenced by people's expectations and perceptions of how things are "supposed" to be. This is the point that informal politics really pertains to the fire house life.
The fire service has many formal and informal leaders. Our formal leadership exists as a rank structure that provides policy and direction, but the informal leaders create the culture. Firefighter are political powerhouses, especially influencing a group of their peers. How many times has something been said or implemented, that was immediately rejected by the informal leader. The informal group is often lead by the senior man, however this position is being replaced as the baby boomer generation retires at an all-time high. This allows for a new informal leadership styles to be developed and the cultural shift to a multigenerational style. Now the informal leader may be the hard worker, the most experienced person, the most positive in attitude, or the most social. There is not a rhyme or reason, however the most common characteristic of the informal leader is the ability to influence the group.
As the Fire Service and our departments loose the experience and the older generations, we must embrace the fact that times are challenging and that the time in the department must not mirror the correlated experience level. Let the actions of others speak for themselves and let the positive influence guide the department. Being a Politician has become something that is looked at negative, and in reality it is far from that. Political status and the ability to influence other is needed in our profession, and must be used for progressive movement forward while building the leadership of tomorrow.
Be a Firehouse Politician; influence those around you by working hard and motivating others to better themselves. Set the example and maintain a positive attitude. This is hard sometimes, and can be challenging with other stressors of life beyond the firehouse. When discouraged, take a deep breath and remember that the mission is bigger than yourself, and that others may be looking at you for the answers. Often times I hear that one person cannot make a difference in an organization, and that’s an unfortunate view. It really starts with you. Be the best employee and student of the Job, this will affect your company and those you work with every day. Before you know it the positive vibes will spread from one firehouse to another. When you retire, smile and look back on the career that helped inspire and motivate others.
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy