Is Your Legacy Worth Living?

In this commentary I want to challenge you to do a reality check on your fire department's legacy. Is it a good one?


We chose to follow the legacy because it was shared with us by people we came to respect and admire. We became part of a culture which felt that doing our job in the same way and manner as those who went before was a good thing. We worked to share that culture with those who came up after us. I was in the thick of this effort owing to the great amount of time I spent in training. When I was the Commandant of Training for the Newark Fire Department, my staff and I worked hard to create an understanding of the reasons for the many tasks we trained the new troops to perform. 

Since I traveled to all of the major fire service conventions, I was fortunate enough to be exposed to the latest developed as they came upon the fire service scene. It was my good fortune to have a number of friends with whom I could discuss the latest trends and compare them to what we were doing in Newark. In this I was most fortunate that I was able to periodically take my bearings in order to steer the ship of state in the Newark training world.

Each of us must pause from time to time to test the limits and direction of our fire department's direction, focus, and legacy. People (and fire departments) can go off the deep end if they fail to assess whether their operational legacy is being properly maintained and nurtured. You must make a conscious effort to see if you and your fire department are on the right course to meet the needs and demands of this the 21st Century. You just cannot leave things to chance.

In ancient times navigators on the sailing ships of the time charted their course by taking their bearing with a device called a sextant. They used the stars to guide them in pursuit of their journey and it was the navigator's job to insure that the ship was headed in the right direction by performing a task known as shooting the stars. This type of navigation was used well into the 20th Century. It has been replaced by technology, but it stills takes the skill of a human to make the system work. 

Let me suggest that you will need to assess the direction of your organizational ship of state by charting a course using the points of your moral compass. It is also critical to keep the welfare of your individual fire personnel in mind. It is critical that you avoiding doing what we in Newark used to call stupid stuff (other spelling used). 

What then are the points of the moral compass which you must use to assess the direction and continued validity of your fire department's legacy? You must do this to insure that you do not go off course and lose your way while pursuing false idols. These points are: 

  • Loyalty
  • Dependability
  • Reliability
  • Tenacity
  • Integrity
  • Courage
  • Honesty
  • Pride
  • Faith
  • Determination
  • Forcefulness
  • Good judgment
  • Tact
  • Decisiveness
  • Persistence
  • Initiative
  • Servant of the troops

It sure does seem like there are a lot of things which go into the making of your moral compass. However, let me suggest that all have a place in making you the best possible organizational navigator for your fire department. These are all of the internal aspects of your compass.

What then are the external things against which you will begin to shoot the stars in order to determine whether your department is actually on course? After a bit of soul searching, I have come to the conclusion that the following things need to be a part of your organizational navigation process: 

  • The professional literature (texts, magazines, and research papers and projects)
  • An environmental scan of the world around your organization
  • An environmental scan of the inside of your organization
  • A review of major emergencies, incidents, accidents, mistakes, and other teaching moments from the outside world
  • The local economy in your area
  • Your state's economic conditions
  • The national economic environment
  • The opinion of people whom you trust

In doing this you need to chart a course of support and guidance for who have been entrusted to your care. You need to stand up for those things in which you believe and nurture and support your people. Above all, you must learn to lead from the front. No one likes a hider/slider type of leader. I look to the "Iron Mike" statute at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga. The whole concept involves creating a "follow me" leadership style among the Queen of Battle. 

It is my opinion that one of the keys to creating and preserving your fire department's legacy is to avoid jumping on all of the passing fads in the fire service. You need to become proficient in the tried and true methods of operating. Are you aware that at one point many years ago it was forecast that fires would be found in the future by trucks equipped with radio frequency wave which would interrupt the combustion process.