If you go back in time, especially with Fire Engineering, you’ll most likely find hundreds of articles on leadership. And you’ll find hundreds more on firefighter safety, both on the training ground and on the fireground. Many great fire service leaders who have gone before us and the ones who are among us still today, have most likely told the many of us to “lead by example”. It’s a simple message that carries with it so many lessons that young and inexperienced firefighters can place in their toolbox of learning and add safely to their experience, applying as needed. Sadly, there are still many among us that fail to heed that message. One would think that in the 21st century, after hundreds and hundreds of hours in training and after hundreds and hundreds of articles written on the subject areas of leadership, firefighter safety, training and fireground operations, the officers in charge of their companies and their departments would not falter in these areas. Sadly, one would be wrong.
How much more evidence do we as a fire service need, other than the large amounts of investigative line of duty death reports that are offered by organizations like the USFA and NIOSH? Going back thirty years, thousands of firefighters died because of a lack of safety, accountability, the lack of p.p.e., the lack of command and control, strategy and tactics. Many of our deceased brothers and sisters have died inside and outside of structures and on the highways and other road ways of our towns throughout the U.S. of A.
If you want your personnel to be trained, lead by example and take some training with them.
If you want to have a vent limited fire, lead by example and don’t allow for crews to break every window that they find.
If you want your personnel to be accounted for, lead by example by appointing an Operations Officer, an Accountability Officer and a Safety Officer at all of your incidents, when it’s applicable.
Shorts, tee shirts and flip flops are not approved as turnout gear. You should want your responding personnel to be in turnout gear, including s.c.b.a. on all applicable hazardous materials and actual fire incidents, including fire alarm assignments. Lead by example and wear your complete set of turnout gear as well.
If you want your personnel to be wearing the ANSI approved reflective vests on all traffic incidents, then lead by example and put one on too!
If you want your personnel to be safely buckled up in their p.o.v.’s and your department apparatus, lead by example and buckle up too! (This is a law in most states. We are not exempt. Why do we need reminded?)
If you want to have safer responses to incidents, both emergent and non-emergent, lead by example and develop and enforce standard operating driving procedures. We’re still driving lights and sirens to incidents that do not require that lifesaving response. And it shouldn’t be about who arrives first. It is about driving with due regard to other people’s safety, arriving safely, getting the job done and going home.
If you want the equipment to be placed back on the apparatus after each incident, cleaned and ready to go for the next run, lead by example and follow through with your crew and ensure it gets done.
If you want clean and shiny apparatus on a daily/weekly basis, lead by example and pick up the hose and a bucket and assist your crews.
If you want a physically fit crew, lead by example and exercise with them.
If you want a more flowing and systematic approach with which to command an incident, lead by example, practice with and implement the ICS and stay put ! Stop trying to interfere with the operations side and simply command and delegate throughout the incident accordingly. Micromanaging isn’t a good practice.
If you want your department to play by the rules, lead by example and give them a set of rules and/or enforce the ones already in place.
If you want clearer communication among your troops, lead by example and stick around after training, after incidents to talk and listen to them. The time they offer you and the time you can give them, are indeed valuable. Treat it that way.
If you’re worried about volunteer recruitment and retention, lead by example and don’t admonish the troops for missing a call or two, especially when they’re fairly active to begin with and supportive otherwise. Rather, lead by example and bring them in to brainstorm to improve participation among those who do not participate at all or at the very minimum.
Our mission statement in the fire service is to save lives and protect property. Our overall strategy at incidents includes, life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation. Both the mission statement and overall strategy includes our lives! If we as company officers and chief officers cannot or will not lead by example, we might as well get rid of the I.C.S., get rid of the positions of Accountability Officer, Safety Officer and the Staging Officer. Better still would be to just step aside and let others lead by a better example. Bad examples lead to bad outcomes. Bad outcomes can lead to increased line of duty death and injuries. Bad examples are being noticed now more than ever. It’s a sad statement to make when we have the technology and documentation in front of us, informing us of lessons learned. Everyone out in the public has the potential to be a Twitter or Facebook reporter. Be responsible to yourself, your company and your department, when you’re in charge of an incident, in charge of a crew, in charge of a company or an entire department. Otherwise, you may be found responsible in a court of public opinion or worse, a court of law. Leading by example is in our job description, although in some cases, it’s unwritten. Look like the firefighter that you signed up to be and what the public expects you to look like. Leading by setting good examples is not rocket science. Leading by example is a simple yet very strong message that can keep you and others in the fire service, for a very long time. And I’m sure we’d all appreciate sticking around longer. Stay safe!