Be an Effective Gatekeeper

As a fire officer, your people are depending on you to see that they can operate as safely as possible.

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.

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