The Journey: Mistakes and Decisions

There is an expression that teachers use with their grade school children:"Mistakes are good, they help us grow, they teach us what we need to know." That expression may be good for grade school, but in the fire service mistakes can be deadly. It does...

Admitting you have made a mistake or at least a miscalculation is a trait that makes an effective leader. All too often leaders lack the ability to admit they have made a mistake or blame others for the error. Both of which are character flaws. This is most likely the case with leaders who have fragile egos. This is not just a fire service issue; it affects politicians, corporate executives and many other "powerful" individuals. Laying the blame off on someone else only demonstrates how ineffective you are as a leader. If you are a leader you take full responsibility for the actions of your people. Good and bad!

If some error occurs because a company officer failed to tell you something, you need to train that officer so that he/she is aware that that is something you need to know, not blame them for the event. Most bad things happen on the fire ground as a result of a series of small seemingly insignificant events. The "domino effect" of all these events causes the catastrophic failure. Just as the removal of one domino will break the chain reaction that causes the whole house to fall, if any one event did not occur the tragedy would also not occur.

This is why we need to be truthful in our ability, and our vulnerability to mistakes. Recognizing them, admitting them and being able to correct them will distinguish us as leaders in the fire service. Consider the Marine expression "the only unforgivable mistake is the one you made before". Make every mistake a learning experience. We will discuss experience in our next segment.

Questions and comments are welcomed, send them to:

Look for the next article, "The Journey: A Matter of Trust."

Stay safe.

CHRISTOPHER FLATLEY, a Contributing Editor, is a 20-year veteran of the FDNY and a lieutenant currently assigned to Ladder Company 21 in Manhattan. Chris has twice served as chief of the Blauvelt, NY, Volunteer Fire Company and is currently the assistant chief and training coordinator. He is a nationally certified Fire Instructor 1 and is an instructor at the Rockland County, NY, Fire Training Center and holds a degree in fire protection technology. He is a Master Exercise Practitioner on the Exercise Design Team through the Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness. You can reach Chris by e-mail at: