It is my deep and abiding belief that my frequent assignments to the training division, throughout my career in the Newark Fire Department, were a real blessing. Although sometimes it was a real blessing is disguise. For most of the 1980’s and 1990’s, I had the privilege of meeting the next generation of the Newark Fire Department as they entered through the front door at the fire academy. I was most fortunate in being able to see the changing face of the fire department as it actually evolved. I tried to do two things:
1. Share my love of the fire service with them.
2. Learn about them as people.
This taught me a critical lesson. How you welcome people on board your ship is a critical part of how they will fit in as members of the Good Ship
S.S. Fire Department in your community. If you are lazy and don’t show an interest in people, you can ruin them right at the most impressionable stage in their career development.
A critical element of my operational methodology which always seemed to work well with the new troops was my conscious effort to reach out to them. I always approached each new class with a proactive attempt to share my love of knowledge and learning, as well as my love of the fire service with them. I really did not like those times when we were forced to treat the new people harshly. I never enjoyed feeling uncomfortable, and I worked not to make sure that the troops never felt uncomfortable.
However, I did work for a number of people who dearly loved to say the word “no” as often as they possibly could. It gave them a feeling of power I guess. They felt that things had gone along well for them during their career, and that there was no real need to change anything. As a consequence, many of the most modern procedures in equipment, training, and deployment never saw the light of day during my time.
These were the people who believed in Ivy Tower Management. This is a perverted style of leadership wherein any idea not dreamed up by the dwellers in the Ivy Tower of fire headquarters was force to die a horrible and sometimes agonizing and public death. Further, many great ideas died on the vine, because someone in the front office was just a little too lazy to do anything about these potential changes. A phone call or a report was too much to ask of these lazy bozos. This would be that aura of laziness of which I spoke a short while ago.
It has been my personal experience that the number of unhappy firefighters in any department is directly proportional to the number of lazy chiefs in the organization. I have seen people lose a vacation with their families, because some slug of a chief failed to submit their request for a vacation change, because they were “too busy”. I had a different read on this. I firmly believed that they were actually too selfish and self-centered to take the time out of their lives in order to take care of their troops.
My style was quite different. It was my way to personally worry a great deal about my troops when I was a battalion or a division commander. My theory of servant leadership did not allow for me to serve anyone other than the people who worked with me.
I can remember getting into a heated argument with a former President of the National Fire Protection Association over my view of the world. He said that it seemed to him that I cared more about the people in the organization than the organization. And of course I argued back that with out in the real-world of the fire service with the dedicated, motivated people, you simply had to have this critical interaction. We ended up agreeing to disagree.
I learned early on that my success depended upon the labors of some really fine people, and I discovered early on that your folks can make you look really bad, or really good. And it was not a matter of brain surgery or rocket science to get the picture. Make it hard for the troops, and they would make it real hard for you.