"Summer of '63" Leadership Skills

Allen W. Baldwin reviews what the fire service can learn from military leaders at the Battle of Gettysburg and beyond.


In this article, we are going to get a philosophical and historical as opposed to the usual operational. Currently, I am instructing a "Managing Company Tactical Operations" course series. My class is a mix of seasoned officers, chiefs, young aspiring firefighters and a few new officers. We spend...


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In this article, we are going to get a philosophical and historical as opposed to the usual operational. Currently, I am instructing a "Managing Company Tactical Operations" course series. My class is a mix of seasoned officers, chiefs, young aspiring firefighters and a few new officers. We spend a lot of time talking about leadership and its importance. With all of this discussion, I began to think about what is out there to help develop these folks into great leaders and to further develop our own leadership skills.

Some people will say that great leaders are born, while some will say great leaders are a result of having great people around and supporting them. Whatever your definition of a great leader or how they are "born," I am sure you will agree that great leaders keep learning and improving their skills. We could look up the definitions of "leader" or "leadership" in a dictionary, but I find it easier to form my own definition of a great leader. There are people within the fire service who exhibit the true meaning of leadership and what it means to be a leader through their beliefs and actions. These are people I admire and try to emulate based on there abilities to lead and set positive examples. Chief Charlie Dickinson, Chief Dennis Rubin, Chief Billy Goldfeder, Chief Alan Brunacini, Dr. Harry Carter and DCFD Firefighter Jackson Gerhart are just a few of my fire service leadership role models. These people, whether officers or line firefighters, show certain qualities that set them apart from the rest -- they earn our respect and we trust them with our careers, our safety and maybe even our lives. Think who you would add to your list as fire service leadership role models.

Further research led me to begin considering what would happen if we look "outside our box," beyond the fire service, for time-proven leadership styles. As I thought about where to look for additional information and materials on great leaders to learn more and help to develop future leaders of the fire service, it dawned on me that I needed only to look right in my own backyard for examples of great leadership.

My backyard borders the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park and I am just about a stone's throw from the monument of one of the greatest military leaders, Robert E. Lee. Here was a leader who could keep an army focused and believing in a cause for almost four years under varying conditions. Even after their defeat at Gettysburg, Lee's men stood behind him and would have continued the battle. Why? Lee was a proud man, but also humble in most aspects. He demanded loyalty from his staff and army and in return gave loyalty and respect to those who supported him. Lee also believed to a point that he and his army were invincible, which is probably what got him into trouble at Gettysburg, along with ignoring the advice of some of his trusted staff, in the end as any true leader does. Lee took the responsibility for his men's failures along with his own. There are many excellent books on Lee and his staff that show his style of leadership and deserve a look.

Two other great leaders at Gettysburg who deserve our attention are General John Buford and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Buford saw where the fighting would take place and where it could go if deliberate defensive actions weren't taken. With that vision, he led his men into a lopsided battle to hold their position and slow the enemy down until help arrived and the situation could be controlled. Buford accomplished this by looking at the big picture and realizing if he didn't hold this position, the fighting would be worse and even more lives lost. He knew the gravity of the situation, what had to be done and the sacrifices that might have to be made. He used his experiences and knowledge to form this vision. If Buford's men had not believed in his leadership abilities and in him, would they have been able to hold the "high ground"? Is this not unlike what we do by holding the fire in check until the rest of the assignment arrives or making a stop and holding at a trench cut?

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