Sounds harsh I know, but I’ve been there; I speak from experience on this one and I know some of you have also struggled with goals at some point in your own lives. What if we got past these minor mental letdowns and we turned them around to be connected strings of successes? This could add up to our best year ever! This new year, instead of making a physical commitment for better health, maybe it’s time to make an ideological change. Maybe it’s time we train our brains to move past the temporary failures of promises not kept and take control of our lives for once and for all. Imagine what that kind of power could do for your goals. Maybe this is your year to take responsibility for your life and truly achieve what it is you’re after! I wanted to share with as many firefighters as possible a new book that teaches you how to take ownership of your life.
Now I will never profess to being a professional book reviewer, however my own journey of development has allowed me to read too many leadership, management and improvement books that all start to say the same things, with the same ideas, and the same objectives that ultimately form the basis for a murky picture of what self leadership truly is. The problem is most of the books are not for firefighters, or do not have the linkages to our culture and way of thinking. I don’t have to tell you that our way is unique to almost every other vocation out there. So finding resources that can inspire us is a tall task. Until now.
I received and quickly devoured Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin as a gift this Christmas. Willink and Babin didn’t know they were writing a book specifically for firefighters; in fact they actually were writing the book for everyone because in my opinion they see at times a problematic world which, in their words, a lack of extreme ownership is the No. 1 issue. There has never been a book not written for firefighter that is so truly intended for firefighters.
Extreme Ownership does not make any groundbreaking revelations about leadership.
Truth be told, no one has made any major advancements in academic theory on the subject in years, so what we are left with is who can best clearly explain the concepts in a way that resonates for your unique situation. The book’s power comes from the simple and clear messages told through epic stories of battlefield conflict in the United States-led Iraq war on terror in the city of Ramadi, and how the lessons learned relate to your life and business. Both the authors were there as Navy Seal leaders who led SEAL Team Three’s task unit Bruiser. Their stories will make every firefighter take a good hard look at his or her own personal accountability and ask if he or she has the ownership required to succeed.
How SEALs think, operate, and maintain a culture teamwork and discipline is not unique to just their profession as the fire service embodies much of the same thinking. However, Navy SEALs take leadership to the extreme. For this reason it makes perfect sense for SEALs to coach firefighters on teamwork, leadership and brotherhood.
I remember being in a bar in New York City just blocks away from Ground Zero called Suspenders on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 when a about half a dozen Navy Seals came down the stairs to where more than 100 firefighters from all over North America were enjoying a few beers and celebrating the lives lost 10 years ago. Within a few minutes, word had spread around the bar about who these gentleman were, then the line started. I’ve never seen firefighters star struck; certainly no other emergency service workers would command so much respect, but these men became the focus of the evening much to their chagrin. The SEALs were humble and respectful, shaking hands and accepting the appreciation. Their team took a corner table in the back of the bar, backs to the wall as if to scope out the exits and survey the room. It will always be one of my fondest memories of my NYC trip.
So if you have ever wanted to learn, grow, and expand your knowledge on leadership but were hesitant to dig into what you might think is a management book or a dry academic text, this book will be your new mantra. One of the authors, Willink, has already inspired me with his 5 a.m. postings of photos on social media of his militant discipline for taking charge of his life. It is my goal to challenge this man and make myself better by getting up before him and posting my work out before he even gets out of bed!
There are no direct references to the fire service in the book but there are more than a dozen fully applicable tactics and strategies that will have you thinking these naval specialists wrote the book on some of our traditional rules and methods that have been a part of us for more than a century. One of the best chapters is Chapter 2, No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders, which uses story of switching the leaders of two opposing boat crews that are on complete opposite ends of the success spectrum. How it turns out and the lesson learned are so applicable to our own fire service issues that I think the authors might have written the story about us.
So this is where I turn the page and leave you with your own ability to choose. Will you take extreme ownership? I know what I want to do; this book has given me the fuel to make some positive steps through which I take ownership. Happy new year and here’s to owning our futures!
So far, adjusting to a nine-to-five work week has been OK, however, I did find myself in a Costco on Saturday afternoon cursing my nine-to-five existence. Such is life – as I found out – that Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Costco is virtually empty. There are some perks, however; I have not missed one of my kid’s hockey games, and I’ve attended a few more dance classes to watch my youngest daughter learn ballet, which I might add is extremely difficult. I’m not sure how these dancers aren’t recognized, along with their instructors, as competitive athletes. I never would have thought that ballet would be so rigid in structure, and yet so understated in all of its elegance and splendour. I actually found myself putting my phone away and watching how the transitions play out from one dance segment to the next.
My wife took me to the Nutcracker many years back and I did not know it was a ballet. I thought we were going to some stuffy, up-tight building to see some guys in big hats and soldier suits sing some songs and march around at Christmas time; it was all just Nutcrackers to me. I guess when you’re not actually seeing the trees through the forest you have no idea what you’re actually looking at.
Not only have my perceptions of routine things in my personal life changed, but I have also taken a new view in my work life of how a Fire Paramedic department works. I’ve always known generally how it works, just as you know the trees are there; but I had never realized just how important the administration staff members are to a fire and paramedic department. First, the administration support staff basically make up the nucleus of headquarters – without this bunch of dedicated soldiers the work of the department does not get done, period. There is no other way to define these women and men other than as absolutely crucial, and a gazillion times awesome. Here in Winnipeg, the HQ staff that support all the different branches are vital in collecting, analyzing, sorting, creating and processing everything. While the chiefs are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the organization, the actual management of these forward-moving directives is carried out through the work of these fine people in administration.
Secondly, the Information technology folks are, by and large, my new secret service, spy-type heroes. IT folks are amazing, and I have unfortunately realized by watching them shoot lasers out of their fingers that I really have no clue how to use a computer. I’m very jealous of their knowledge and the ease by which they do their work. There are probably 10 other working groups up here at WFPS HQ that I could throw compliments to, and they all deserve their kudos as well, however I’ve only been upstairs for a month, and have not had a chance to meet and or work with everyone yet.
I think it is very important that every fire and paramedic personnel get a chance to see how the job is run from inside the forest. I can tell you that I certainly see a few more trees today than I did just a few short weeks ago. And while emergency services work may not always be as elegant as the ballet, the professionalism and dedication to the task unquestionably produces an orchestrated masterpiece.
Now police officers get a bad rap because they enforce the law; when we break it, we’re obviously in the right, and the officer is out to lunch. Sound familiar? That’s a stupid law. I barely touched the guy. I only had seven beers and I’m fine! Imagine going to work when everyone and their cousin believe you to be doing a crappy job, for the most part, all of the time. Imagine getting spit on, or having children speak to you disrespectfully because they were raised to mistrust you.
As firefighters, we wear the negative stuff and chew on it for a while, swallow it down deep and try to bury it. We’ve all seen stuff; stuff that we didn’t talk about at our spouses’ Christmas parties last month. We seem to understand and can relate to how police deal with the pain in their own souls that can start to wear on you. The real problem I have been dealing with lately is the lack of understanding, the hatred, the ignorance of what is really happening.
Police deal with saving souls, and while firefighters do as well, I would gladly admit that firefighters deal with the misfortunes of life inflicted on folks from a perspective of non-culpability. A lot of the time, when we arrive, it is no ones fault. Fault creates blame, blame creates anger, and anger fuels the demons inside of us. When choices are made by people who are desperate, have lost hope, and have sunken to a depth at which point, in their own minds, committing a crime is the way out, you’ve now arrived at evil. And cops are in the business of dealing with evil like nobody’s business. Firefighters deal with evil but not anywhere near as much as those sworn to protect us from it.
Society is changing before me; statistics may support the theories of a declining crime rate, but I believe the people that reach evil are in large parts more desperate, determined, and internally conflicted with rage and hatred toward us. We can argue until the cows come home about the differences between cops and firefighters; we can have our jokes, good-natured ribbings, and laughs at each other expense. But in the end, I want every police officer to know from coast to coast that I get it, I understand you, and I support you in your efforts to protect my family and the citizens in your care. I’m just so damn tired of cops getting shot, and I wanted to say thank you, and never give up.
*Carousel photo from Flickr by Robert Taylor
I answered the door and the woman asked if she and her young charge could see a fire truck. I looked down and there was this bright, smiley-faced kid that I put at about three years of age.
As I started to say, “Sure come on in,” the kid ker-klonked right by me, snow boots on and all. He loves fire trucks his babysitter said. For the next 15 minutes, Darius and I talked about the job in a way that I’ve never had the pleasure to do with a four year old.
You see, Darius will be a firefighter but he can’t apply now because he is only four, he informed me. He told me with certainty that when he is maybe 20 he can drive the truck. Darius and I talked about hoses and water supply, as he did not know that the fire truck had water in it already, explaining to me that firefighters get the water from the hydrants. It was quite apparent that this child had had someone in the family read to him about the fire service. I asked some more questions to find out if Darius had a relative on the job, but it did not seem like it.
Darius will be our future. Darius will be a first-generation firefighter when he is 20, and, until that time, I will do my best to keep the job moving along so when it is his time to take over the reins, the job will still be the same magical place for him as it is for me now.
For the rest of the day I felt invigorated and happy to serve, and Darius was the reason I felt this way; it was a quick reminder of the importance of what we do. Every day in the media we seem to see stories of public emergency services under some sort of attack – budget cuts here, firefighters doing this over there, and horrifically sad stories everywhere. It can get to you some times, and I will admit that there are days that the seed of complacency could be planted. It takes a good fire – which sounds awful but you now exactly what I mean – or a great save to really appreciate how lucky we are to do this for a living.
That same day we had that good fire in the middle of the afternoon at which the crew pulled together and made a really good stop on a dirty basement fire – high heat, lots of smoke and all in -25 C conditions makes for a stellar afternoon. There were no injuries and we were all thankful for the chance to practise our trade under really challenging conditions.
Right after the fire I had to get to my kid’s hockey practice; I am now the head coach of a group of 13-year-old boys. Several of the other coaches and a few mothers commented on how I smelled like a bonfire, even though I had had a quick shower. I informed them that I had just come from work. Suddenly the atmosphere in the room changed and parents were now looking at me funny. One dad said, “Wow I can’t believe you guys do that.” But all I could think about was how in 16 years I hope I am still on the job so I may have a chance to fight a fire with Darius.
When Darius left the fire hall, I loaded him up with fire-prevention colouring books and a stuffed fire dog and I asked him in front of his babysitter to tell his folks to check his smoke alarms. She smiled at me and knew I was really talking to her. I have to keep this kid safe for a few more years until he can drive me around on the truck.
*Carousel photo from Flickr by Michael Himbeault
July 5, 2014, Winnipeg - Manitoba is declaring a state of emergency, which temporarily allows the provincial government several rights and powers, as well as access to federal assistance and cold, hard cash.
It can make a world of difference on our jobs; it might even be the difference between life and death. Hang on a little longer, push a little further, and maybe make a real difference in someone’s life.
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