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Over the past several years, I have noted a decided change in the type of people who are becoming leaders in the fire service. Perhaps it is a byproduct of the way that our society has changed, or maybe it is just the next step in our evolution as a fire service. In either case, I am upset.
If I hear one more person, either a leader or a follower, ask "What's in it for me?" I think I'll scream. How can you be a caring, sharing leader with an attitude like this? How can you get out in front and take chances, when your only concern is for yourself? Heck, we are in the lifesaving business. You do not do what we do to get rich, you do it to help people.
Before I launch into one of my famous tirades, let me pause to commend those among you who are still bound by the traditional way of caring for people. As I have stated on numerous occasions in many venues, the true leader should remember to live the leader's role as a servant of the troops. They work to serve the citizens of their communities, and lead their troops. They must balance this with their position within the political environment of the community wherein they serve.
They must also follow another critical element in the leadership equation. They should strive to live the motto of the U.S. Army Infantry School: "Follow Me!" This was one of the primary traits listed by the members of Harry's Gang during our survey work. Time and again, people wrote about their shining examples of good leaders in these terms:
- They would never ask you to do something they hadn't done themselves.
- They stood up for their people.
- They remembered how they were treated when they were firefighters and vowed not to do that to others.
- They remembered the good leaders they had followed and worked to emulate them.
- They would never pull the rug out from under you.
- You could always trust them to keep their word.
In other words, they were always thinking of others, not themselves.
These are some really fine compliments, but are they words that can be uttered about you? I have worked with far too many people who could have had streets named after them. You know the type: One Way. And guess which way the arrow is pointed.
For a change, I am not talking about chiefs and politicians. I am talking about officers of all ranks who place their own good before the general good of the people they lead. A couple of examples spring quickly to mind.
I can remember a captain who always felt that reloading hose was beneath his dignity as a gentleman. Now I am sure that there are a number of departments that go out of their way to make sure that captain is a dignified and respected position. And there are many departments that consider a captain to be too important of a supervisor to load hose.
That is just not my view of things. To me, a captain has always been a working foreman (or foreperson nowadays). Anyway, this captain to whom I am referring would always plunk his butt down in the cab of his pumper while the troops struggled to reload the hose. If the full crew of a driver and three firefighters was there, maybe the captain could monitor the operation, but this guy would do his disappearing act even when the crew had shrunken down to a driver and one firefighter. This is sure not a good way to create loyalty among the troops. The funny part of this is that I know where this man worked before being promoted, and his old captain always helped out with the chores.
How important is loading hose with the troops? It is not the activity itself undertaken so much as it is the willingness of the leader to share in the task at hand. The same thing holds true on the fireground.
I can remember a battalion chief who took great pride in the fact that he never wore self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). He mentioned this to me just after I came stumbling out of a burning church, covered with soot and soaking wet, after working with a very aggressive group of engine companies to halt the spread of the fire. He was great for shouting encouragement from the safety of the street. He was also famous for calling the shots on a cold winter's night from the heated front seat of his chief's car.