The Leadership Power of ONE

I am always amazed at how powerless so many firefighters feel in their departments. Too many firefighters at every level in the fire service do not recognize their potential to make a difference in their fire department, especially when it comes to...


I am always amazed at how powerless so many firefighters feel in their departments. Too many firefighters at every level in the fire service do not recognize their potential to make a difference in their fire department, especially when it comes to initiating positive change. I want to...


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I am always amazed at how powerless so many firefighters feel in their departments. Too many firefighters at every level in the fire service do not recognize their potential to make a difference in their fire department, especially when it comes to initiating positive change.

I want to share a story with you about one firefighter who made a very large difference in his department through vision, perseverance, and determination. A fire department in California did not have a helicopter program, and as far as they knew, they did not need one. But that's not what one firefighter believed. Brian had come over from the California Department of Forestry, where he had been involved in air programs. He thought it would be a huge benefit to the department. He started asking around to see what the possibilities were, and hit nothing but dead ends.

So he started gathering information. On his own time and on his own dime, he started going to national air program conferences to find out what other departments were doing. He started putting together ideas and proposals and taking them down to Kinko's to get reproduced so they looked professional.

One of the lifeguards in the department had a brother on the city council. Brian asked him to set up a lunch meeting where he could meet with the lifeguard's brother. He ran his idea by the city council member, who loved it and said if more support could be garnered, he might get some city money allotted to the program. It would cost $4 million to get the helicopter and $2 million a year to keep it in service for the department. The city council member suggested going after some corporate sponsors.

He went back very excited to some of his chiefs and pitched the idea. They all shot him down. "There is no way we will convince the fire chief or taxpayers that money should go to a helicopter when we need new engines and other equipment." "Your fellow firefighters will oppose it if it means money taken away from things they need." "We've survived just fine all this time without one, why would we need one now?" "The way we've always done things has worked just fine." "We will never see something like this happen in our lifetimes…give up, it's a waste of time."

Most people would have done just that. Brian didn't. He continued to go to conferences and gather information. He refused to let the vision die. He spent a couple of years persisting with the idea and influencing people in every way possible. He finally got a few chiefs behind the idea. He got some other firefighters behind the idea. They scheduled meetings with local and state political officials to see what could be done. A county supervisor came up with a possibility. He knew of government funds that the project might qualify for that would produce a substantial amount of money toward the project if they could match it.

The city council finally agreed to come up with $400,000, which was matched to sponsor a 120-day program. Wildland fires hit the area and the helicopter was put into action. The media covered the fires and the benefits of the helicopter in saving lives and property. The public saw how beneficial it was. Now there was support for getting a permanent helicopter program.

Brian had to continue the process of positive influence to get surrounding participating agencies on board and circumvent some surfacing resistance. During this long process, Brian was promoted to captain and then to battalion chief and then to division chief.

After eight years of persistent influence, Brian's fire department became the proud owner of its first helicopter. It took a lot of influence and leadership to get city council support, taxpayer support and corporate sponsors behind the new permanent program. The city council allocated $2 million a year to the program. The department now has a second full-time helicopter and the department is one of only two in the nation that use night-vision goggles to fly and perform operations at night.

Dream Becomes Reality

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