Firefighting is an action business; it is not passive or complacent and it requires decisive, action oriented people, with developed instincts.
I remember being taught to place the lower leg of a rescued child under my armpit before exiting the fire building. By locking down on the child’s leg, you were less likely to drop the child when the child’s Mother saw you with her child and her instincts took over. I saw this in action several times and a lesson became an action instinct.
On a family trip to the waterpark we were near the top of the stairs for the double water slide. Suddenly, I heard a commotion above us in line and I saw many panicked people watching as a young frightened child tried to climb over the side of the slide. People were pointing and shouting for the child to get down or go back but he was so young, so afraid of the slide and so panicked that he did not realize that his action placed him in grave danger. The onlookers were frozen with fear.
I quickly ran to the top platform and moved through the watching crowd without apology. I entered the slide as fast as I could and as I slid by the panicked child I grabbed him with my outstretched arm and down the water chute together we went. His parents moved toward me as we splashed into the pool and I had to explain what had nearly happened at the top and how this stranger came to be holding on to their screaming child.
Was the action extreme? Was it my emergency? Should I have waited for the park personnel to handle the situation? Why not just point and shout like everyone else? Let someone else do it. Was breaking the line offensive and was forcing the child to ride this scary water slide insensitive? Was the situation time critical and did it require immediate action? Was it common sense? Was it instinct?
As leaders, there is a time to lead and a time to follow. We must not assume that a young person is not apprehensive on their first slide and just leave them behind to experiment with fear, apprehension and possibly worse. Leadership must be adaptable since every follower is not the same. Sometimes “follow me” works well, while at other times “show me and I will be on your coat tail” works better. The difference is the level of training, the student and most importantly the instinct of the leader that decides the appropriate approach for that student and the situation in front of you. Some students want to go, they say that they are ready, they demonstrate competence, but they freeze up when it is time to actually make their first jump.
Leadership in the fire service is most successful when the leader has developed leadership instincts and has dedicated the time to teach the hard lessons that will help young people develop their own book of instincts. The process of the development of leadership instincts is always active and engaged and never static.
Leaders at every level must understand and apply the cost and value analysis to what they do as a leader. Cost is what we pay for something; value is what something is worth. Your leadership has a cost and a value. Your investment and attitude determine both.
Leadership requires learning and teaching from every opportunity, conducting coffee table critiques of each incident, and the realization that our buildings and our emergencies are similar and that the same actions taken at the most recent incident were similar to those taken in the past and will be similar to those that will occur in the future.
What did we do? How well did we do it? What can we do better? What do you think? What did you learn? Let’s train on it.
Some would say that constant review and critique is time consuming and burdensome. I would say that these people need to further consider cost and value, and I suggest that over time they will see the worth of this additional time investment through improved value and performance. Leaders and followers will learn together, once the instinct building exercise and the learning questions become habit. What is the cost of such a simple critique of every incident and what is the value?
Instinctive Leadership is not reading from a script with no idea of what to do when the fire or other emergency does not play by the script or when the computer fails or the ceiling light in the buggy goes out. For example, the thermal imager is a great tool, but it is just a tool and it does not replace technique, patterns and instinct. You better learn to search with it as you would without it, and you must know what to do when everyone else has already gone down the slide and you are left there alone, scared, suddenly panicked and climbing over the side looking for a way out.
I suspect the little boy at the water park was excited to try the giant water slide for the first time. He never wanted to disappoint his parents and he wanted to do big stuff. He thought he was ready. I wonder if his parents were watching him for signs of apprehension, as he climbed higher and higher, or if they saw him looking down at the ground in fear, as they were climbing up with excitement. At the top, I wonder why one parent didn’t go first to demonstrate their leadership, while the other waited and followed and provided reassurance through followership. After all, they all were going to end up at the same place.
Young leaders won’t learn to command and to paint a verbal picture if all that they are allowed to do is carry paint.
Take a young person under your arm and don’t drop them.
Climb to the top, jump in and pick up those who are struggling and take them for the ride with you.
Leaders who develop and teach instincts last; those who don’t - won’t.
Evacuation signals, collapse zones, MAYDAY response, safe/unsafe roofs – what’s your instinct?
What color is the smoke, how is it moving, is the speed decreasing or increasing – what’s your instinct?
Have you experienced the magic of a young leader telling you about their fire when you were off?
Do you remember your first day on the job? Your first fire? Your first grab? Someone taught you.
Does your bike still have training wheels or did balance and instinct take care of that?
Enjoy reading, caring and sharing.
Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.