The Twenty-Minute Wonders: Bane of Society

July 17, 2006
It is time to share another one of my personal biases with you. While I am a strong proponent of the concepts of participative management and servant leadership, perhaps it is time to define a couple of limits to this caring, sharing approach to leading and interacting with your fellow travelers in the fire service world.

It is time to share another one of my personal biases with you. While I am a strong proponent of the concepts of participative management and servant leadership, perhaps it is time to define a couple of limits to this caring, sharing approach to leading and interacting with your fellow travelers in the fire service world.

We cannot give free reign to everyone simply because it seems like the fair thing to do in a free society. Further, I believe that we have to place an emphasis on the importance of experience. Over the past decade I have seen the development of a really disturbing trend among the younger members of my beloved fire service.

These are the people who learn everything they ever think they will need to know during their firefighter recruit training. These hooples return from the academy firmly convinced that they know it all. They are equally certain that no one else knows as much as they do, especially the old guys.

Woe be unto the long-service veteran who makes the mistake of thinking that they need to correct any of the false notions held by these instant veterans. Hence the name I have given them in the title of this week's visit with you.

In my youth much ado was made over a William Ward song made popular by the Dominos and the Persuasions. It was entitled The Sixty-Minute Man. Maybe some of you remember hearing it during a really passionate scene from the baseball movie, Bull Durham. Here are a few of the words that made me think:

"Well, listen here, girls, I'm telling you now,
They call me loving Dan,
I rock 'em, roll 'em all night long
I'm a sixty-minute man.
And if you don't believe I'm all I say,
Come up and take my hand.
As soon as I leave you go, you'll cry
Oh yeah, he's a sixty-minute man!"

This song spoke of an individual who seemingly possessed an amazing physical prowess in the arena of romance. The subject of this song deals with an individual who could grab a woman's attention, win her heart, and make her happy, all within the span of sixty minutes.

It is a nice song, with a catchy melody. I really like it. However, its premise is as far from reality any thought can possibly be. To truly win the heart of woman, much time, effort, love, and sincerity must be invested. This investment must be maintained over time. You must come to know and understand the woman (or man) before a commitment can be made.

In short you must devote the time and effort to learning how to love someone. It does not just happen. Unlike the romance novels and popular songs would suggest, the living of a life of love requires time, training, and education. It also requires a give and take of ideas between the two participants in the equation of love. These are things that often fill the paragraphs of my visits with you. These are the many things which go into learn how to practice your craft as a firefighter.

It takes a heck of a lot more than good looks and good intentions to become a capable firefighter. Yet I keep meeting young people who look at their recruit fire training at the academy as the Alpha and Omega of their educational journey through the fire service training forest. I say this to you based upon the perspective I have developed over my nearly 40 years as a member of the fire and emergency service world.

Ours is a demanding, ever-changing field. There is always something new coming around the corner at you. Whether it involves the latest tools or technology, there is plenty for each of us to learn. It is also a place where the basic skills must be continually reinforced. You cannot stretch a hose once, or raise and place a ladder once and consider yourself an expert.

Another of the great fallacies of our field of endeavor involves the supposition that the best firefighter will make the best leader. This never was true, it is just what we thought was right. Another of the things that I see running rampant among the 20-minutes wonders is their push for power and position.

Some of these instant wonders end up with rank that they make years before their experience and education would dictate such advancement should occur. The push for immediate knowledge and instantaneous gratification are just one more part of the everyday world which is forcing its way through our doors.

Lest you think I am railing against change let me assure you that this is not the case. None of us can stop change. However we cannot allow the creation of a mindset which revolves around the belief that instant gratification and instantaneous power and position are good things. I say this for the simple reason that we would simply setting ourselves up for failure if we allowed this to happen.

There are a number of factors which need to be considered at this point. Each of which forms a part of the overall fire service operational triangle:

  • Training
  • Education
  • Experience

Each of these taken by all by itself is an insufficient foundation for success. I have met well-trained people who were not highly educated. You can operate in this environment if the people are willing to listen to the voices of experience and reason. However, when training can be supplemented by education and experience, the road to the future becomes a bit smoother.

Here is the ideal sequence of affairs for preparing our people, at least as I see it:

  • Find and recruit the right people
  • Recruit training under a well-trained staff
  • Mentorship by a veteran during the initial work assignment
  • A guided system of education in the many aspects of the fire service
  • The use of experience in a positive manner, viz. critiques after each incident to identify the good things as well as the problems
  • Re-reading of the educational materials as a way of reinforcing the good things and overcoming the bad things which were identified during the critique.
  • Making the whole process a continuing circle of learning, doing, critiquing and retraining.

No one should be exempt from their part in this loop of learning. There is no such thing as a well-trained, twenty-minute wonder. Each of us who wishes to excel must understand the demands which are made up us in the areas of learning, performing, and improving. The key methods which we should all consider employing are two-way dialogue, practical reasoning, active listening, and the simple act of sharing.

It may seem trite to tell you all that there is no "I" in we, but that is as simple as it gets. These "twenty-minute" wonders act as though the world revolves around them and the minimal amount of knowledge they have absorbed during the minimal amount of time they have been amongst us.

Many have been the times when my attempts to establish a dialogue have been rebuffed. I guess these folks look at me as one more old fool that has seen his day and should move along and let the new generation do whatever it is that they want. Sorry Charlie, I am one tuna that just isn't going to move along.

Regardless of how often my efforts are rebuffed, I can assure you that I will keep reaching out to share what I know. Most of your cards, letters, and emails tell me to keep on pitching, so that is what I intend to do.

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