fire service leadership

Generation Why? - Part 1


I have heard people in fire and rescue refer to Generation Y, as “generation why?” Sometimes these statements would come down in condescending ways from senior officers on the department.  It was usually in reference to the Generation Yer’s asking why a job needed to be done.  At least in my case, the senior guys typically misunderstood my intentions. What I was actually doing, instead of complaining or being insubordinate, is trying to understand the end goals and purpose of a job-so as to maximize the outcome and efficiency.  We are the generation that changes their email passwords on Outlook, help insert functions into Excel, and a host of other daily tech solutions- so maybe we can come up with a better way, faster way, or more positive outcome. –But not necessarily by blindly following orders. In other words- asking why is not a bad thing. In fact, its what I contend rescuers should do more often.

Generation Why Firefighters

Generation Y is generally considered to be those born during the 1980’s and early 90’s. Stereotypes for Generation Y include laziness, a sense of entitlement, and requiring praise. In actuality this demographic is very “tech savvy” (think gear), ambitious, family oriented, and are team players with good communication skills. The latter are desirable characteristics, but the “why” and the questioning is a characteristic that should transcend all generations on the job. So let’s set the stage for this reasoning. . .

Question Everything! Consider that an order. Not at the wrong time. Not during an emergency. Not in an insubordinate or disrespectful way. Remember your station in the department and be always humble. Asking why we do something is the first step in understanding SOP/SOGs, our history and the mechanics of the problem. I have little patience or regard for statements like “Because we have always done it that way,” “Just because I said so,” The words “always” and “never” used too liberally in rescue. And finally the perpetual get-out-of-jail-free words. . . “for safety” -without due explanation.

Meaningful questioning elevates rescuers to a world of critical thinking. Critical thinking is defined as "the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion" and also "disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence"( Our end goal is to improve the mission to save those that others cannot, all-the-while keeping our rescuers as safe as is prudent. To accomplish this we must continually evaluate and ask “why do we do the things we do?” and “how can we improve our mission?”

Firefighter Making Entry

There are answers out there. Rescuers must seek them out.  One might start at the station or home front. The next source may be on the web, in books, or videos.  Let’s also focus on the instructors:  if your instructor cannot satisfactorily answer “why,” then you need to find a new one or seek knowledge elsewhere. There are allot of hacks and parrots out there that are mass-produced and label themselves instructors.  Instructors aren’t supposed to know everything, but a good one will admit that, and know how to find the answer to your question.

In the next article, we will examine some rescue "why's?" that will generate some spirited debate around the day room. We won't cover each topic exhaustively, but we will open the door to some research and critical thinking.

You can download or print a PDF copy of this article by clicking here.

Where did you come from?


How many times have you heard a firefighter say that "he" forgot where "he" came from?  My question is, do we all know where we actually come from?  In our fast paced world many new firefighters have absolutely no knowledge of their own fire department's history.  I am not sure if this is due to a lack of interest in fire service history or a lack of mentoring from the veteran members of the department.  If you have never read "Pride and Ownership" by ret. Chief Rick Lasky, I highly recommend purchasing a copy.  Chief Lasky discusses several points about how we enable firefighters to take pride in what they do and to own a piece of the department.

I can remember growing up in Jackson, MS and every time a Q-siren would wind up I would listen for the other firehouses.  I could identify them from the house, first Engine 19 and Truck 19, then Rescue 17 followed by Engine 7 and 16.  I loved the sounds of Q-sirens throughout the city and when I was younger I remember watching many working fires. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy hearing the stories from the past and learning about the history of where we all come from.  I recently saw one of these iconic Jackson, MS pumpers in what appears to be it's final resting place and can't help but think of all the stories that rig was a part of.

One of the greatest qualities of our fire service is the deep rooted traditions established from our history. Unfortunately, I have noticed a trend in many departments moving away from these traditions.  For some reason we have begun this idea that you only wear a Class A uniform for a funeral.  If we constantly walk around in BDU's and t-shirts with dirty duty boots do you think we deserve the same respect our ancestors had?  I am not saying that we shouldn't adjust our tactics to correspond with the challenges we face today.  I am saying that our fire department's desperately need respectable traditions brought back.  If the members of the firehouse are wearing dirty uniforms and riding on a pumper cluttered with disorganized equipment then the new hire will follow that same "tradition".  It is extremely hard for new members to take pride in what they are doing if they are embarrassed by what they see.  I played football in the SEC, one of the most challenging conferences in the country, and I was fortunate to play for Coach David Cutcliffe.  Coach Cutcliffe would always tell us "Leave this place better than you found it."  We need this mindset in the firehouse.

If you are a young firefighter take the time to ask questions to the veterans, they will appreciate your interest.  If you are a veteran it is your responsibility to instill this interest into your crews.  You owe it to the ones who came before you.  If your department still performs ceremonies and traditions, I applaud you.  If your department does not, then be the firefighter that helps bring them back.





What is Your Definition of Leadership?

Defining Leadership Fireground Leadership

How often do we discuss leadership issues?  In the fire service you will find yourself pulled into conversations about leadership capabilities on a regular basis.  You can read books, take courses, and study well known leaders but until you decide what type of leader you will be then you cannot move forward.

I believe there are many types of leaders each of which have their own personalities.  These leadership types, or styles, provide the leaders with a direction to move forward.  When you are struggling with finding an identity as a leader you must first ask yourself what your own definition of leadership will be.

Many years ago I heard this definition of leadership, "Leadership is taking someone to a place they normally wouldn't go to by themselves".  That message solidified what came to be my own leadership identity.  We become firefighters to serve others and if you follow a servant style leadership path you will serve other firefighters in order to ultimately provide the citizens you protect with the best service possible.  I have chosen a path in my fire service career to emphasize training other firefighters in order to ultimately serve my community as best I can.  I have to continue to remind myself to focus on this definition of leadership I have chosen.  This definition drives me to perform in the classroom, the training grounds and on the fire scene.

Once you identify your leadership definition you will be able to focus on refining your skills as a leader.  There are many lessons I learn everyday that help guide me to become a better leader.  I constantly analyze other firefighter's leadership styles looking for traits that I gravitate toward.  I can only hope that one day in my fire service career someone else will find a leadership trait of mine that they gravitate toward.