To Get Ready For The Future,You Must Learn From The Past

One of the primary forces at work in the fire service today is the movement toward embracing change. We are all being asked to reveal what it is about us that prejudices us in favor of the status quo, what it is that causes us to fight change. This is...


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While our times are more complicated, the theory remains the same. We get up, we go to work and we do our job. Who knows what they will call us in the centuries to come? Because of this continuum-style approach to time, I want to introduce a slightly different approach to change and the management of change. I want to stress a new combination approach to managing change within your fire departments; one geared to challenging conventional change wisdom.

Let me assure you that many things will continue to change. This is a given and shame on you if you can't accept that. However, I am urging you to prepare yourself and your fire department for those changes. That is what being a change agent is all about. Accepting change and preparing for change go hand in hand.

I want you to get ready for what is coming, for to do so is critical to the success of your fire department. However, I want you to do it while maintaining contact with some good old-fashioned values. It is at this point where my ideas begin to diverge from the standard management song sheet.

Many of my thoughts and beliefs run counter to the traditional management theorists. It is my ardent belief that anything new you plan for your fire department will have little merit if you choose to ignore the basic human values that made America great. To succeed in the future we must have a firm grasp of the present. And we must never forget the greatness of the past.

Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it? Heading off into the future with one foot firmly planted in the past; characteristic of some real muddled musings, to say the least.

Regardless of the approach you choose for running your fire department, it is my firm conviction that you must always remember those basic values which have helped to weave the fabric of our lives as Americans. These values are crucial to any way of doing things, even in those cases where a radical change is needed. No good idea, new or old can occur in a vacuum. Our societal beliefs and principles exercise a strong influence on whatever we choose to do.

No matter how much you want to change your organization to meet the time of chaos which lies right out ahead of us; there are some societal givens. These are things which you as firefighters, sworn to protect the public, can never forget.

Many of these values, traits and beliefs are really quite emotional in nature. Let's take a look at them:

  • Strength
  • Sacrifice
  • Duty
  • Dedication
  • Loyalty
  • Honor
  • Pride in an honorable task
  • A love of God

Never be ashamed to express any of these emotions. In many instances, these are the only things that can keep you going in a world driven by:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Directing
  • Coordinating
  • Controlling
  • Managing by objectives
  • Missions, goals and objectives

This whole business of change is highly offensive to my traditional English heritage. I continue to believe in such archaic traditions as fair play, hard work and waiting your turn in line. We cannot, however, move inward to a world of our own. What I'm suggesting is a personal and organizational approach to the future which will allow for perpetuating the characteristics listed earlier:

  • Strength
  • Sacrifice
  • Duty
  • Dedication
  • Loyalty
  • Honor
  • Pride in an honorable task
  • A love of God

We have witnessed each of these at work, at one time or another. Whether it was the resolve to move an attack line into the third floor of a burning tenement or the decision to stop the fire at the corner, it took strength and resolve to get the job done. It might have been the fire chief who refused to cut his department in the face of pressure from the mayor. Or it could have been the union leader who sat down with the mayor in his community to work out a compromise to save firefighters' jobs.

And what greater demonstration of dedication and loyalty can we find than the firefighter who will not leave an injured buddy. We owe a duty, one to another. If ours is an organization that will succeed in the future, we must remain a team dedicated to one another.

This may seem like a lot to ask of the "Me Generation" or "Generation X" but ask it we must. Just as brave men suffered at Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Normandy and Hamburger Hill, so must we know that sacrifices are necessary for our team. If you are the leader, you must remain dedicated to your people. Labor on their behalf and work for their betterment. Set high standards for yourself, and your people will seek to emulate you.