Volunteer Vision: Positivity is contagious
The other day a person said to me, “You look like you have a spring in your step.” This was nice, but in fact there was rock in my shoe. All kidding aside, it’s a reminder that people notice you and all you do. New parents are always reminded that little minds are like sponges that absorb everything they see, especially when they are watching mom and dad. The same goes for someone in a uniform, another position of authority. Add the fact that you’re a firefighter and all bets are off.
Wearing a uniform, a fire department t-shirt or driving a marked fire vehicle can sometimes make you feel like a target. Rest assured you’re being watched and you’re getting noticed. In a small town, you don’t even have to be in uniform because everyone knows who you are and what you do. Do you feel the pressure yet?
I was taught the Golden Rule at an early age, that is to always treat others the way you wish to be treated. My father had a motto that really resonated: “I’ll do anything for anybody if they ask me to do it, but don’t tell me to do it or I won’t.” You should help out anyone and everyone, but those looking for help should be polite and ask. Another motto I learned early in my career is “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” Pin that one to the bulletin board.
When you go through life with a positive outlook it’s contagious. The same goes for negative nellies in the workplace that always seem to bring down the mood in a room. If you look closely, you can see the dark cloud hanging over them. There is no place for this negativity in the fire department. Yes, there are times for sadness and grief, but to me, maintaining a positive attitude is paramount in building up and supporting your team.
I try to be a teacher. Not in the traditional classroom sense, but in life in general. The saying that you should always learn something new every day resonates with me and I do my best to instill and help others accomplish that, whether they know it or not.
Recently I started doing podcasts for Fire Fighting in Canada magazine and while this brings back many memories from my days in radio, it also brings back the lessons I was taught growing up in broadcasting. One thing I was taught has become a habit that I will never forget — remember every microphone you see is live or at least treat it that way. Watch what you say whenever you see one and assume it can hear every word you speak. Once this lesson becomes habit, it can save you from many embarrassing situations. Remember and practice it.
The idea that teachers can teach without trying is similar to the fundamentals of parenting. Your kids, no matter their age, will always learn from your example. I hope one of those examples is that they too can make a difference. I’m often reminding people that it only takes one person to cause change, positive or negative. You may not be able to change the world through your positive attitude, but working at it a little at a time will certainly improve the world around you.
I’m not sure where or when I first heard this and while I can’t take credit for it, I always correct a person that tells me “You only live once” by saying, “No, you only die once. You live every day.”
People have problems, and in a volunteer fire department nothing messes with the fabric and continuity of the organization more than the negativity of its members. If a member has a problem, we all have a problem. That’s the beauty of the team. When something negative threatens the family dynamic, it’s the team that pulls together. You might believe that you are only as strong as your weakest link, but this is when you take the steps to strengthen and support that link.
When looking after your people, I believe that a positive attitude can go a long way to building resiliency and mental health when it comes to negative attitudes. So much is said about traumatic stress and critical incident, but don’t forget there is such a thing as compassion fatigue. Sometimes you’ve just about had enough of dealing with people in general. Remain positive and see beyond others’ problems so they don’t become your own.
Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Originally a radio broadcaster, Tom’s voice could be heard in the early 1990s across Canada as one of the hosts of Country Coast to Coast. Tom is very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia as communications director and conference committee chair. Contact Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept.