As of late, my career has caused me to be harshly critical of myself in the context of my job performance and my role within my organization. In doing that, I find myself comparing my abilities and effectiveness against those around me, as well as my mentors. In hindsight, I offer that the process has actually been quite interesting and I have learned a great deal about myself and others. It is what I have learned and witnessed that has manifested itself in my head as what I affectionately call “The Bugle Theory.”
Have you ever worked with someone, or God forbid for someone, who accepted with much fanfare their next promotion, yet everyone (including that person) knew that they were simply incapable of effectively filling the role? You know the people; the guys or gals who refuse to accept the true spirit of Brotherhood, yet applies for social committee chairman at the local volunteer department. Or the one who couldn’t tell you the difference between a pike pole and a closet hook, but wants to be the supply sergeant. Or, my personal favorite, the one who has less personality than a rock, yet accepts the promotion to fire prevention lieutenant because lieutenant pay is “where it is at!”
And, if all those examples aren’t enough, I am willing to bet that everyone who reads this knows of a fire chief who was hired or elected because he or she was the most popular or had the most certifications and looked great on paper, but really could not even lead a group of kindergartners to lunch. Now, having shared all that negativity, I offer that there is little that we can do to change our lot with those who fit the above descriptions, if they currently still hold such positions. But do not lose hope my brothers and sisters, for our future can be much brighter.
In my attempt to rationalize the crazy mess that is my thought process and the data that fills it, I have come to the conclusion that a firefighter’s perspective is directly related to his or her rank and vice versa. Stay with me on this one, I hope to bring it together for you in the end. The bugle (upside down, so the common sense doesn’t spill out I am told) represents how firefighters “see” the world that is the American Fire Service.
Consider that new hires, recruits, boots (if that is what you call them), are at the bottom narrow section of the bugle. They see things as they relate to their immediate surroundings; are they doing what they are supposed to do? Are they keeping their equipment clean, are they making sufficient progress on their class load and general knowledge of their department and the fire service in general? Their perspective revolves around them, and rightly so. At that level, it should! They need to build their own foundation and earn their place in the firehouse and establish themselves as members of their organization and their crew.
As those new hires get some experience under their belt, they slowly rise up the chute of the bugle as it gradually widens. Their view of things changes, and with some luck, their perspective of all things firefighting broadens. They begin to see not just the way to do that (whatever that is), but this is why we do it that way and if we don’t these are the consequences. With each experience or passing year, they gain a better understanding of how decisions are made and more importantly how they affect the proverbial “big picture.”
As firefighters progress in their career, they obviously mature, and in some cases they are promoted to higher ranks. In this process we must ensure that their understanding of their department, their state, and even the national fire service expands appropriately. This, in my opinion, is the most critical of times in a career and where many I have seen fail to prove themselves worthy of promotion or increased responsibility. It is at this level that we must educate ourselves and the rest of our people on the fire service as a whole. Not just the fire suppression side of the house, but on the budgetary process, the political pressures, the whys and how’s of our departments goals and objectives. All the while, we must ensure that we all maintain our educational progression so that we are not left behind as the service continues to move forward as it has since its inception.