“Jacks of all trades and masters of all”. As firefighters, our charge is to ensure we live up to this incredible responsibility. The vast array of highly specialized disciplines we must not only comprehend but also more importantly, be proficient with is no easy task. Being an officer does not make them the very best at everything. What do you think happens? A firefighter wakes up the day of their promotion, puts on a light blue shirt and all of a sudden has a higher power of understanding… I don’t think so. It’s not like when they “get made” they’re sent down to the local hospital to receive electro shock therapy, infusing large quantities of knowledge into their brains. Don’t let anyone ever fool you. All knowledge one has obtained is strictly due to hard work and experience over the years. It’s important we honor the skills and knowledge we’ve acquired throughout our fire service careers but at times must find a way to “put our pride aside”.
It’s well known the fire service is flooded with type A personalities. Firefighters have a natural competitive edge. Members want to prove they know what they are doing and are the right person for the job. Some may say type A’s are difficult to work with but they can provide an imperative function to our job. Their strong, competitive personality can help enhance and move the team along. Instead of stagnation and the status quo, type A’s at times can push companies, houses and even entire departments to be the very best possible. The act of watching someone with a strong work ethic attempt to better him/herself can become contagious. Healthy competition amongst crewmembers can push others to better themselves. This being said, putting your pride aside is often easier said than done, especially for members with a type A personality.
So what does it mean to “put your pride aside”? “Putting your pride aside” means knowing your limitations and at times letting go of the reigns. As stated before, just because someone has a bugle or two on their collar does not make them the best at everything. As a boss, I wholeheartedly believe the best tool in our toolbox is our crew. It’s not as simple as adding up the years of service of a crew. Although years of service does equate to some level of experience, it does not give a detailed outline of the incredible skills you have at your disposal. For instance a firefighter in my house Bobby Buch, has a strong work ethic and is constantly in the books, taking classes, training etc. One area in particular he excels in is that of “technical rescue”. Without being asked, he constantly has the equipment out on the apparatus floor, inspecting, rearranging, logging and setting up systems. Although I consider myself competent, I recognize he has a better fundamental understanding of this discipline. When I decide to run a drill involving ropes & rigging, I turn to Bobby and ask if he would be willing to take the lead and run the drill for the day. Recognizing he is more proficient in this discipline, I feel it’s in the overall best interest of our team to delegate this responsibility.
Does recognizing a crewmember’s strength and delegating a responsibility make an officer any less a firefighter or leader? Some may disagree but I say “Absolutely Not”. Some may believe the officer should be more knowledgeable in all areas of the fire service when compared with their crewmembers. I personally feel this couldn’t be further from the truth. A good leader is knowing your crew and figuring out when and how to use them. Every crewmember has his/her own unique strength. Turning to a firefighter and asking them to run a drill can have far reaching impacts which the officer may not even be aware of. Delegating responsibilities can oftentimes give someone a sense of honor, responsibility and most importantly the feeling of empowerment. These are just a few of the countless benefits you may be gaining simply by putting your pride aside. Go out of your way to give a complement and let them know how much you value their contributions. No one wants to go to work every day and be told what to do, or they’re doing it wrong while never given a chance to exhibit their attributes to their brothers/sisters.
We live in an evolving society. Many young firefighters are coming on the job with a tremendous amount of preexisting skill/knowledge of the fire service. The old adage of “just sit there and shut your mouth” must be re-evaluated. Although probie’s should value their ears more than their mouths, we must also utilize them by tapping into any insight they may possess. An officer with twenty-five years on the job could very well be set in “the old way of doing things” and completely oblivious of the latest techniques/technologies. There is no doubt the twenty-five year veteran has a plethora of experience. At the same time the new firefighter walking through the door may have recognition of a newer/more proficient way of doing something. It is essential we find ways of bridging the old generation with the new in order to assemble the strongest fire service possible.
“Putting your pride aside” does not make you weak. I’m not saying to be lazy and not do your job. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes letting go of the reigns could strengthen ones overall leadership ability and improve the moral of an entire crew. “Putting your pride aside" shows you are comfortable with who you are and aren’t afraid to empower those around you.
Adam J. Hansen