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Be an Effective Gatekeeper

A pal and I were chatting the other day. We were discussing the various skills which a number of our friends seemed to possess. My buddy and I agreed that we were pretty much idea guys. I have no identifiable mechanical skills. If you happen to see me holding a hammer or a screwdriver and seeming to do anything mechanical, be careful. Stand back. Someone is probably holding a gun on me to make me do it.

In any event, all of the hereditary Carter mechanical skills which my father attempted to pass on to my brother and me passed intact to my brother. He can fix anything. I admire his skills. In my case, words have become my stock in trade. He deals in hammers and screwdrivers, while I deal in nouns, verbs, adverbs and participles. I like to deal in thoughts and ideas. Oddly enough, you never know when a stray thought passing by your ears might just morph into a full-fledged idea.

So it was again during our church service the other day. Pastor Scott Brown was delivering a sermon on the role of the shepherd as a gatekeeper. He spoke of the importance of shepherd's to society back during Jesus' time here on earth. The flocks were dependent upon their shepherds to see that they were fed, watered, and protected from marauding beasts.

This made a great deal of sense to me. The key thought was the role of gatekeeper which the shepherd played in protecting the sheep at night. There is another thought which my come into play at this point. If you think about it, is not Jesus well known as the 'Good Shepherd'? The Good Shepherd who knows all members of his flock and takes care of them all.

As I sat there pondering the words from the Gospel according to John, I began to see another sort of gatekeeper. I began to see that leaders in our beloved fire service must, of necessity, take up the role of shepherd for their flock of followers. They must understand their responsibility in returning each of their members safely home to their families. Sadly, I see this is as a critical role, one which many in the fire service seem to have failed to adopt. Many of our leaders care only for themselves and their own selfish needs.

Fortunately, our new staff of officers here in Adelphia is doing the right thing. They are working to create and improved organizational culture which is built upon the National Fallen Firefighter's Foundation "Everybody Goes Home" program. They are serving as the gatekeepers for the Adelphia Fire Company. They are working to keep the members of their flock safe from the wolves of death and danger which are out marauding in their search of another firefighter to kill or maim.

In my own personal case, concern for the troops is nothing new for me. It was the heart and soul of my leadership style back in the 'good old Newark fire department days'. It further see this as a variant upon the concept of the servant leader as put forward by Greenleaf back in the 1970's. It mirrors the concern I had for my troops when I served as a battalion chief in the Newark Fire Department. My people came first and you had to go through me to get to my guys. Let me assure you that it was the rare event when someone made it past me to take a shot at my guys. I was the gatekeeper.

However, Pastor Brown's words took my mind in a slightly different direction. He was addressing the problem with the Pharisees who were more interested in the enforcing the rules of their religion than celebrating the healing work of the 'Good Shepherd'. This message started me thinking about those people in the fire service who seem to be more concerned with the letter of the rules than with the welfare of their people.

These are the folks who enforce all of the rules, whether they make sense in a given situation or not. These myopic minions make no measureable allowance for situational awareness or operational flexibility to be brought to bear on the problems which their fire departments are called upon to handle. The rules are strictly the rules according to these folks. I do not see it that way.

Before we go any further let me make a point. Please do not think that I am speaking against the concept of having rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes it is the rules by which we operate that keep us from a state of chaos. Many times during my career in Newark, I took my people's part over the demands of the organization. I took a liberal view of these sorts of things.

My view on this topic comes from a reading of the history surrounding General George S. Patton, the famous World War II military commander. Patton was a man who took great pains to insure that his troops were well-trained to do their deadly duties. He took care of his men by being uniformly strict to all and demanding solid, top-quality training for the troops.

Patton was once heard to put forward his view on the importance of rules and regulations to the running of the U.S. Army. Let me paraphrase his thoughts for you as I have read and digested them over the course of my career. He essentially stated that regulations exist as guidance for the commander in the performance of their duties. He did not see the regulations as strict and inflexible guideposts for his operations.

Many were the instances when Patton challenged conventional wisdom. Many were the instances when Patton took a detour around the regulations to get the job done. However, in each of these instances, he operated within the general parameters of the regulations. It must be noted that all he did was for the good of his command. This is a lesson which has served me well during my time in the fire service.

Many times in my teaching sessions around the country I took time to define my own view on the role of regulations in the performance of my fire department duties. I have taught my students that I always viewed the regulations as the boxing ring within which my teams and I were allowed to perform our duties. Much like a boxer using the ropes to get their job done, I would occasionally lean into the ropes and stretch them out a bit. I never left the ring, but I did stretch the tension on the ropes to get the job done.

Now my friends let us get back to the issue at hand. If you step forward to assume a leadership role in your fire department you be aware of the fact that this new role comes with an awesome responsibility. Your people are depending on you to see that they can operate as safely as possible. You cannot tolerate anything which will place your people in danger.

You are the shepherd who is responsible for the safety of your flock. You need to work within the safety possible operational pasture possible. You need to be the gatekeeper who keeps your flock safety within the pasture of effective fire department operations. Woe be unto you if you fail to take your job seriously. Our leaders here in Adelphia are working hard to be effective gatekeepers. I applaud their efforts and urge you to copy their lessons.