By Les Karpluk
May 4, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. – This past weekend I had the opportunity to present a one-day leadership seminar at the Smoky Mountain Weekend Fire/Rescue Expo in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The expo started about 17 years ago with a few classes; today, about 900 firefighters gather in Pigeon Forge to participate in hands-on training and classroom sessions.
One of the expo highlights was a RIT maze competition. Once a mayday is called, firefighters enter a maze and go through a series of obstacles and entanglement props, break through a wall and connect emergency air to a downed firefighter. The firefighters faces are blacked out during the exercise (rather, the competition), which forces them to communicate and act as though it is a real situation. The competition drew a large crowd and it was clear each team was determined to win. I have never had the opportunity to observe this competition and as a spectator I could feel my adrenaline rushing. How can you not respect firefighters who train hard to protect their communities?
One of the benefits (I tend to call it a blessing) of speaking at conferences is the great people I am able to meet. I have met so many passionate firefighters across Canada and now I can say the United States. Pigeon Forge Training Officer Chris Knutsen is one of those individuals who is truly passionate about training because he knows lives depend upon it.
The energy of Knutsen and those attending the conference could be felt throughout the conference centre. It was incredible!
I was fortunate to meet and bounce around ideas around with so many great people at this conference and one such individual was Deputy Chief Jeff Alter from the Seminole Tribe of Florida Fire Rescue department. He told me about five key rules that are followed in his department. As Alter rattled on about his rules and explained to me what they were, I knew I would have to write about them. I only hope I do justice to the rules and I will describe them the best I can.
Rule 1: honesty and integrity in everything you do. This means to act ethically, honestly and with integrity while at the firehouse and while serving the public. Do this in everything you do. Period!
Rule 2: firefighter safety is never compromised. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this rule. When Alter spoke about firefighter safety, you knew he lived and breathed this rule.
Rule 3: be nice ¬– no bad attitudes. This was another rule that Alter’s body language communicated with zero compromise. If a firefighter has a bad day and it negatively impacts the rest of the team, it is dealt with immediately. I did not get the impression that it is dealt with harshly; rather, steps are immediately taken to deal with the attitude before it impacts the rest of the firefighting team or the public.
Rule 4: never walk by something that is wrong. If you see something that is wrong, you now own it; so take the necessary action to fix it. It’s a very simple philosophy.
Rule 5: it’s not personal, it’s business. Back to the scenario in Rule 3, if the firefighter is negatively impacting the team and causing moral issues, the firefighter is given permission to go home. The team comes first and if a firefighter is negatively impacting moral, being sent home is not personal, it’s business.
Being able to speak in Tennessee was truly a great experience. Now I know what they mean by Southern hospitality.
I am privileged to have made many new friends from Tennessee who are passionate about the fire service. The only obstacle I had to overcome was trying to understand the local accent. Apparently many firefighters in my class were challenged by my accent; I don’t get it – the only people who had accents in my class were the firefighters!
Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes