In April of 1999, Atlanta Firefighter Matt Mosley captivated the nation’s attention when he hung from a rope attached to the belly ring of a Jet Ranger helicopter. His mission was to save Mr. Iver Simms, a crane operator who was trapped some 200’ atop his tower crane. He quickly became a national hero and was thrust into the public spot light that made every community reevaluate its support of their local fire department. I was the Atlanta Firefighters union president at the time and recognized the leverage point that was presented. Matt and I teamed up to play a little political hardball in order to help resolve a decade of fire department neglect.
The issues were the same as most other departments, inadequate staffing, poorly maintained equipment, a lack of meeting national standards in little if anything. Several of our members had been injured due to faulty equipment, apparatus were breaking down on the scene and en route to incidents. All the warning signs were screaming that we were on the way to loosing a firefighter in the line of duty.
We used the leverage to make quick corrections in the areas of the equipment. New breathing apparatus were purchased, the entire apparatus fleet was replaced over a 2 year period and over the next 6 years (with a new mayor) our staffing levels began to increase. I remember in one of the many interviews saying that “only time will tell” if the administrations new found commitment to the fire department would hold. Nearly ten years later it would not. The shock factor has worn off the politicians, the pictures with them have faded and we now have experienced a reduction in staffing, closing of fire stations the closing of our heavy rescue, numerous demotions and the lay off of 32 recruits.
This does not change the fact that we must continue to get our message out there to the public and the politicians. If we don’t market our issues everyday then when a leverage point is presented we may miss the boat. I certainly wish I could say that all of our work changed the culture of our administration but it did not. What it did was get us out of a downward spiral and bought us more time. Our members and profession were better off for the short term gains that we secured. You should be ready to do the same, while still striving to change the culture.
Now almost 10 years later Matt Mosley is leaving the Atlanta Fire Department for a new career in a new start up Fire Department north of Atlanta. Matt has been promoted to Lieutenant twice in the last 10 years and been given assignments that were morale destroyers for him. He was first assigned as a paramedic instructor at training. He tried it but quickly gave it up to go back the heavy rescue. He made it again only to be sent to the airport. Again, a job which he was not qualified for nor had any experience in and certainly not his passion. He gave it up again and returned to the squad.
Recently the heavy rescue (Squad 4) was taken out of service in a 13 million dollar department budget cut. So the department in effect slowly chipped away at Matt's morale to the point he said enough was enough. I know many of you have heard this song before and have experienced the same type of frustration.
How do we stop this lunacy? We have to refuse to take what we are given and continuously fight for what it is we need to do our job.
Please join Rick Lasky and I on Fire Engineering Radio for a discussion on, Pride and Ownership -Marketing the Mission.
have attached my article “Marketing the Mission” for you to reference. I hope it helps in some way. Whatever situation you are in DON’T GIVE UP, don’t be afraid to speak the truth and remember it is better to do good work than to be somebody. Serve in the rank that you can be the most effective but never compromise your integrity for a position or out of convenience.
Download Marketing the Mission Rhodes.pdf - Fire Engineering Article
For a video copy of the Marketing the Mission FDIC 2000 KeyNote presentation visit: