Some Thoughts for the New Fire Service Leader

Winter in my world is often seen as the time of the new leader. In volunteer fire departments all acrossAmerica, January is the normal time for the new cast of leadership characters to step forward to be sworn in. It is, therefore, a time for all of us to...


Winter in my world is often seen as the time of the new leader. In volunteer fire departments all acrossAmerica, January is the normal time for the new cast of leadership characters to step forward to be sworn in. It is, therefore, a time for all of us to think about what it takes to be a leader. More than that, it is important for all of us to think about the impact which leaders have upon our lives, both good and bad: positive and negative. 

Coincidently, winter is that time of year when I like to turn inward towards my office and my reference library. There is nothing better than a warm book and a hot cup of coffee on a cold winter's night. Please bear in mind that it is really too cold to head out to the porch and fire up one of my favorite cigars, so that I must of necessity confine myself to indoor activities. Such are the shortcomings of winter in a temperate climate.

Whether it is the books on my shelf, the articles I have archived over the years or a trip over the Internet, I like to spend my cold weather research time reflecting on one of my favorite topics: leadership. There are those who suggest that reading about leadership is the best way to learn about just what it is that constitutes the requirements for effectively being able to be in charge of others. There are others who put no stock in 'book learning'. It is for that reason that I want to visit with you today.

However, I want you to know that I firmly believe that all learning must involve some form of written knowledge. Many have been my critics through the years when it comes to my preoccupation with fire department training and education. These are the people who have lambasted me for all of my "confounded book learning."

Think about it my friends. Were any of you born with a special leadership gene or a special pocket of leadership talent in your brain? I think not. I have been in this business a long time my friends and I am here to tell you that knowledge is the base of every endeavor undertaken by people in society. So it is in the world of the leader. You start with the books and then move out into the world around you to put what you have learned into practice. 

Are there other ways to gain information on how to lead others? You bet there are. There are those who would tell you that much of what they have learned in their careers came about as a result of trying new things and either succeeding and moving on or failing and starting over again. This is called the trial and error process. It can be expensive, time-consuming, and highly ineffective,

Sometimes folks who claim to have learned in this fashion will try to convince you that they are totally self-made individuals. Let me assure you that the process of trial and error is one of the least effective and most expensive learning styles. Learning about leadership on a trial and error basis will probably increase the number of folks who do not appreciate your style of leadership (such as it might be). And the chances are good that these people are merely emulating what they saw other people do.

Each of us must come to an understanding of the need to begin the educational process for any topic or aspect of life in the proper manner. We must begin learning about what we wish to accomplish by reading about it. There is a certain baseline of knowledge which must be acquired in every endeavor in life before you can begin the actual practice of the processes involved. The State ofNew Jerseyrequires students to spend many years in school to acquire the knowledge necessary to graduate from high school. This gives you a baseline education, such as it is, to function in society.

Think about it my friends. The old process of on-the-job training was not very effective and led to a great many injuries and fatalities. I came into the fire service in an era where this type of training was on the way out. It has been a long time since firefighters were given their gear and assigned to respond to fires without ever attending a fire academy training class.

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