Booster Lines, Bullies and Buffoons

The other night I was out on the front porch puffing on my favorite brand of cigar and staring off into the distance pondering the movement of the earth around the sun. I was indulging myself with a moment or two of quiet time. As I counted the aircraft...

Yeah, there are some really sick puppy dogs out there masquerading as firefighter and officers in various parts of our world. More than that there seem to be those people out there running loose in the fire service whose major role seems to be that of bullying the poor people have had the misfortune of being assigned to these bad bosses.

I hesitate to say the word leader here. These people are more like the straw bosses that used to hold sway in the manufacturing world back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. These people existed solely to make people labor by means of threats and intimidation.

These were the Simon Le Gree's of our nation's factory empires. You might remember from your days in high school English that Simon Le Gree was the vicious plantation owner in Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic "Uncle Tom's Cabin". LeGree kept order on his plantation by whipping people. Fear was a tool he used with great joy.

This is a tool wielded far too frequently by people who never learned how to lead people. There still exists a style of fire chief that harks back to the old days of "Iron Men and Wooden Ships" that was so common in the same parts of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. This was also the type of mentality which led to the placement of miserable people such as Captain Bligh, of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame, into positions of leadership.

Unfortunately when the factories of our great nation began to move out of the dark ages of the industrial revolution and refocused their efforts toward the human relations movement created by researchers such as Elton Mayo in the 1930's, many fire departments were not so fortunate. In far too many places chiefs continued to rule with an iron hand (and a wooden head). At one point I began to feel that we were moving away from that type of despotic leadership style, but now I am not so sure.

Sadly my e-mail correspondence from around the country is telling me something different. It would seem that the intolerant oppressors are still firmly in control of fire departments in far too many places. I have made exposing and deposing such people a great part of my mission as an author and lecturer. My friends, the obvious solution is not open to us: you cannot kill or maim them. That sort of action is against the law in just about every state in the union. And it is not the thing a good person should do anyway.

It seems to me that you have to figure out how to embarrass them into change or retirement, wait them out, or run them out of office if they are in an elected position. None of these actions is an easy option. The fear engendered by these bullies has stampeded far too many people into a state of panicked paralysis.

Worse yet, these types of actions seem to jump right into the next generation. Since this bad leadership is the only thing many people see during their time in the fire service, they emulate what they have experienced. Sadly, this passing of the bad leadership torch perpetuates the parochial paralysis of the poor people laboring in the trenches.

Let me urge you to do battle with the forces of evil in your empire. It will not be easy. You will have to travel a long and difficult road, but the results of your endeavors will be well worth your effort. Let me assure you that if you quit, they win and the negative results will go on for another generation.

Let me urge you to preach the sharing of power and the delegation of authority. Preach the training of all future officers according to the nationally accepted standards. Preach the sermon of Servant Leadership. Always know that I am with you in this battle.

It is another one of my fervent beliefs that there are people out there doing all of these bad things: it is just human nature. Why do I think that there are people out there in our nation who are using outdated and outmoded equipment and practices to handle the problems facing us in the 21st Century? It is really simple if you think about it. Let me tell you why.

In this age of the Internet none of us can hide from the harsh glare of public review. Every few days you and I see things happening which should have been summarily extinguished from the confines of our collective behavioral toolbox many years ago. Every once in a while I see something really dumb which reminds me that not every one is on the same page when it comes to how we operate at fires. The power of the Internet allows for the sharing of both knowledge and ignorance.