Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

Rethinking Leadership: Who is to blame in your department?

“Problems are what make us grow. Problems are what sculpt our soul. Problems are what make us become more.” -Tony Robbins


I recently got the chance to spend a whopping nine days in a row with my family in Florida and the Bahamas.  For me, this is a pretty big deal since as a  recovering workaholic I often fail to string more than a day or two together with the family.  We drove to DisneyWorld from Virginia while spending almost 26 hours together.  It's probably not hard for you to imagine the temptation that laid waiting at Disney World for our two little girls who are six and five years old.  

As such I found myself saying no to their requests for things quite often.  At one point I began to feel bad that I wasn’t giving in to what they were asking for since we were after all on vacation, but I quickly reminded myself that as the parent it’s my job to teach them about want versus need. Our girls then immediately pandered to my wife only to find the same result.  I’m fortunate that I have a rockstar wife who anchors our family and is a tremendous co-parent.


On the drive home I did a lot of thinking about the fire department and the word no. I’ve personally heard the word no on a lot of things throughout my career, especially lately, that I’m extremely passionate about.  I felt strongly at the time that the opportunity existed in my wheelhouse.  I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences throughout your career as well.  Hearing no can be difficult and when we don’t get what we want it’s easy to turn to the blame game, pointing fingers of accountability every which way but at ourselves.  I’m sure we have all ended up at some point even sending out invitations to our very own pity parties.  Everybody gets hurt feelings—everyone.  Some people just get them more often and are slower to move past them. The most successful leaders find ways to get them less and move past them sooner.  This is discussed more in the topic of developing resilience.


In my experience, typically after a ton of reflection and conversation with people I trust both personally and professionally, I usually end up realizing the huge potential in what I was provided versus what I had asked for.  And as corny as you think this may sound, one of the things that helps me get over these types of events faster is that I genuinely believe in and trust the leadership in my department.  I’m extremely fortunate that I have people in this department who genuinely care about me getting what they think I need, as opposed to what I think I want.  In this regard, it’s very similar to any parent telling their child no as they grow up and learn what is really important.


I’m fortunate to work in a department with world-class leaders, but I know that many of you aren’t.  Perhaps you are in a rut, thinking no one gets it and you are the only one who cares.  If that’s the case then you are probably wondering where’s the silver lining?  In Tony Robbin’s documentary on Netflix “I’m not your Guru” (a must watch) he dives headfirst into the whoah is me aspect of life.  While coaching a young lady through some blame she was laying at the feet of her drug addict father, he challenged her with this (edited for language):


“If you’re gonna blame people for all the $hit, you better blame them for all the good, too. If you’re gonna give them credit for everything that’s messed up, then you have to give them credit for everything that’s great.  I’m not asking you to stop blaming.  I’m saying blame elegantly, blame intelligently, blame effectively.  Blame at the level of your soul, not the level of your head because life is not so simple, black and white.”


Tony challenged her to recognize that who she was at that very moment was the sum of all her experience in life—both the good and the bad. So I'm going to challenge you to do the same. It sucks to weather rumors, mistakes, a negative perception, and man do I know this first hand.  But there is so much growth and ultimately confidence to be found in these experiences.  I’m not telling you that you have to have a “thank you may I have another” attitude when you feel like your teeth are getting kicked in every day.  But, what I am encouraging you to do is instead of giving up on your circumstances, find a way to leverage it into a rockstar career.


Call to Action


  • Whenever I travel to speak there is always about 10% of the audience who look at me like I’m crazy when I share some of the stories of the challenges I have faced and pushed through.  They work at great firehouses, with employees who are all in, who never push back, and as a result, they are very comfortable with being a buddy for never having had to act like a boss.  I find myself jealous at first that they have it so easy, but then I realize—I am who I am and I know what I know because of the trials that I have faced.  Whether you want to call it battle-tested, experienced, or courage once you’ve stared down a challenge whether you win or lose you’ll always have the lesson.  And the more you take the time to reflect on what you can do better, the stronger the lesson gets. 

  • Stop blaming others and don’t run from problems.  You will be one hell of a mentor sooner than later if you stay in the fight for more than one round. You can’t teach the lesson if you don’t stick around long enough to learn from it.  This is one problem that young leaders face when they promote quickly through the ranks—they don’t stick around long enough to figure out if what they are doing is actually working.  They leave with an overinflated sense of accomplishment and worth. Do you want to be effective? Then roll around in a pig pen of problems for a period then figure out how to keep it from happening again, or how to handle it better if it is ever likely to happen again. And remember:

“ You wanna know what our biggest problem is? I’ll tell every one of you if you’re willing to hear me, what your biggest problem is. You think… you shouldn’t have them. Problems are what make us grow. Problems are what sculpt our soul. Problems are what make us become more.”

—Tony Robins

Author Bio: Benjamin Martin is a Lieutenant with a large metro fire department in Virginia. He has over sixteen years in public safety and speaks throughout the country on leadership.   He has written leadership articles for Fire Engineering, Fire Department Training Network (FDTN), International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI),  FirefighterToolbox, and FirefighterWife.  He is a member of the National Speakers Association and  International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI).  He is the creator of leadership training featured at


Views: 1489


You need to be a member of Fire Engineering Training Community to add comments!

Join Fire Engineering Training Community

Policy Page


The login above DOES NOT provide access to Fire Engineering magazine archives. Please go here for our archives.


Our contributors' posts are not vetted by the Fire Engineering technical board, and reflect the views and opinions of the individual authors. Anyone is welcome to participate.

For vetted content, please go to

We are excited to have you participate in our discussions and interactive forums. Before you begin posting, please take a moment to read our community policy page.  

Be Alert for Spam
We actively monitor the community for spam, however some does slip through. Please use common sense and caution when clicking links. If you suspect you've been hit by spam, e-mail

FE Podcasts

Check out the most recent episode and schedule of

© 2024   Created by fireeng.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service