If there is one thing that I remember being taught growing up in Northwest Ohio it was I had to own up to mistakes I made or something I broke. Regardless of how bad it was I knew that if I lied about it or tried to pass the blame off to someone else it only made the consequences worse in the end. It was definitely a hard lesson to learn with many “reminders” given to me by my parents. However it instilled a sense of ownership in me from a young age. When ownership is a thought it is usually no water spots on the chrome bumpers of the fire trucks or shining the tires after washing the engine. A lot of times ownership has the word pride associated with it. Together they form a bond in a firehouse with apparatus and equipment that guys place a lot of sweat in making sure the equipment is pristine.
The more numbers that get placed in front of the years in my fire career the more I see one thing severely lacking in the fire service. That is the fact of guys OWNING IT! Whether it is in morning apparatus checks, to tool maintenance and cleaning, to house chores. There are guys on shifts that were brought up similar to myself, and then there are those that will walk right by a piece of trash on the apparatus floor because well they didn’t drop it there so they are certainly not going to be the one to pick it up. Many times I stand and watch in disbelief in my head wonder, why wouldn’t you pick that water bottle up off the ground and throw it away? How can a tool be placed back on the apparatus dirty, or worst of all how can 3900 psi be acceptable in an SCBA cylinder that is a 4500 psi bottle? You can be the judge of all those examples and make your own conclusions, but things like that HAVE TO STOP. If we don’t start owning the little things there’s no way the big, give a damn items will ever be recognized and owned. I stress to my guys to do things right regardless of who is watching or whether or not their efforts will ever be recognized. In a society these days that will pass out participation trophies for 25th place at a sporting event it is hard to get an ownership mentality instilled in some crews.
So enough Debbie downer examples, it’s time to dive into ways and examples individuals and crews can OWN IT! A crew that trains tirelessly on hose deployment, for 2-3 hours consistently until they can do it in the dark at 2 in the morning perfectly under live fire conditions. The individual who grabs a 24’ extension ladder and practices 1 man deployment for that once in a career opportunity to deploy it perfectly to a 2nd story window to make that grab of a child stuck in their room because the fire would not let them escape through the interior stairwell. It’s moments like that where individuals and crews have an opportunity to OWN IT! Unconsciously competent is a term I use when talking about examples like that, training that kicks in without ever thinking about it with perfect execution of the skill needed in that moment in time. Morals and even ethics are something that a person can be born with and raised on, but to own something of life and death importance takes years of training.
Recently I was command of a garage fire, with the command post on side Charlie because of the house lay out I distinctly remember through all the actions going on at a working fire, watching the pump operator of the engine. He was tireless, bringing tool after tool to the back door, chasing kinks in the attack line as interior crews made entry, deployment of a 24’ extension ladder knowing the crew would have to access division 2 at some point. He was cognoscente of his engine at the same time, the sound of the engine as it was pumping water, and the amount of water he had left during suppression. He took care of the needs of the interior attack crews and myself as the command officer, never having to ask for something to be done. He ABSOLUTELY Owned IT! Those moments were what we had spent hours training on. It all paid off and made the incident run effortlessly. Even though I was the only one that got to physically see it being done, everyone benefited from 1 person taking ownership of the riding position they were assigned to that day.
The fire service desperately needs individuals and crews to step up, own it and lead by example. The younger and younger “kids” come out of high school and begin their fire service careers at 18-19 years of age the more 30 year “salty dogs” need to teach them how to own it! They don’t know what they don’t know, and it is up to each one of us to teach them the right way to do things, along with the traditions of the fire service. It’s time to stop renting or leasing our careers to the fire service, it’s time for each of us to own them!