I believe there have been 240 trillion books written about leadership. (that’s an exaggeration) I’ve read a lot of them and thought half of them might have actually been useful. But after working in the fire service for over 40 years, I think I have a reasonable perspective of what good leadership might look like. I’m not representing myself as a leadership expert. But I am an expert on what I experienced over those 40 plus years. Listen to this story and let me know what you think. As always, thanks for listening.
Romanticing the past is pretty normal for all of us. I hear myself doing it when I’m complaining about changes to the neighborhood where I grew up. Sport Complaining (Episode #28) done in moderation can be cathartic if it isn’t taken to extremes. But in the fire service (both wildland and structural) talking about the “Good Old Days” can drive me crazy. Those days weren’t all that great. They were just the days we knew and became comfortable with. It is important to recognize that nothing stays the same. Not our neighborhood, not our children, not our jobs.. and that’s ok. It really is. What is important is to know that changes are always happening and maybe we should engage to help guide that change. Not to drag our heals to keep everything the same, but to use our influence and leadership to positively move foward in the most effective way possible. Remember the old saying, “The Fire Service, 200 Years of Tradition Unimpeded by Progress”. Let’s do better. I hope this week’s story gives you pause to think and also makes you chuckle. As always, thanks for listening.
About a month ago my good friend Mark Sigrist passed away. He worked for the US Forest Service for many years and was an experienced firefighter and Operations Section Chief. When I first became an Ops Chief myself, Mark was the senior Ops Chief on my team and mentored me in his own classic style. Looking back on those days I was nearly un-mentorable. But Mark did mentor me and I did learn. What he taught me were his values. First, be good at your job and don’t do anything half assed. Be professional and most of all, be concerned about the firefighters who we’re supervising. That last item was very important to Mark. He was always concerned about their safety, health and comfort.
Mark was a mentor to many of us on that Incident Management Team. I have two brothers, but Mark was the brother I never had. He was that big mountain of a man that everyone loved. And through all that serious and critically important issues facing fire chiefs everywhere, Mark told me it was OK to laugh and have a good time at work. I already did laugh at work. But I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate at this level of the organization and when was it OK. Mark was all business on the job and especially while on a fire. But when we were relaxed and not worrying about people’s lives and property, he made us all laugh. He was tough when necessary but kind and tender when that was needed by his co-workers and friends. But when I think of Mark I will smile and laugh because that’s what I loved most about him. He made me laugh. And in this life, we need as much of that as we can get.
To his family, all I can say is thank you for sharing Mark with us while he was alive. He spent so much time with us during the summers and I know that’s time he wasn’t with you. So thank you. To everyone else, here’s a tiny glimpse into one man’s life and how he impacted his firefighting co-workers around him.
Scenes from Fire Camps
Living and sleeping at large wildfires can be challenging. This year with the Covid virus it’s even more challenging. But this week’s story is about sleeping in a busy fire camp. I’ve also included a few pictures from a fire camp for those of you who might not have ever had the pleasure of living in the dirt and dust for weeks on end. The pictures will illustrate just how amazing the folks who work in the Logistics Section are. The firefighters get all the kudos but to all the folks working back in camp in Logistics, Finance and Planning, my hat is off to you.
The following photos show firefighters during their morning briefing, the kitchen units, showers, sleeping trailers and tents, the office area, etc. In the meantime I hope you enjoy this peek into the life of firefighters at a large wildfire.
In 1988 many firefighters from around the United States and Canada ended up in Yellowstone National Park assigned to the many fires in and near the park. Some firefighters made multiple trips to the area. I only made it for one trip to the fires there but that assignment lasted 30 days. It was an interesting time to be sure. I had never been on a fire so far from home (Arizona) and had never been on a fire for so long (30 days). After a few weeks I thought I might never get home. I missed my son’s first day of kindergarten. When I called home, the kids would cry, I would cry… It was a tough time. But there were adventures to be had. The firefighting was intense, the scenery was amazing and the inter-personal interactions were often quite entertaining.
This week I’ve included 4 short stories that you should find interesting and entertaining. It’s definitely a behind the scenes kind of view of what happens at a large, long term fire incident. There were many other short stories that could be included this week but I don’t think you want to spend 2 hours of your day listening to me reminiscing and laughing with my friends. These are good examples of hard working, professional and committed firefighters… who also qualify as knuckleheads. Hope you enjoy this weeks story. Thanks for listening everyone.
Today’s story is about different communications styles in our work environment. I can’t tell this story without using the actual colorful language that you might hear around the fire ground. So I apologize if my language offends anyone. If you have tender ears, you might want to bypass this week’s story. For those of you still brave enough to listen, you’re sure to get a chuckle if not more. Even though the stories this week are humorous, as usual there is a bigger point to be made. And as often the case, the message has to do with communications on the fire ground. I will not be suggesting that the F Bomb is my preferred communications tool. But you’ll hear when I used it and got the desired outcome. Besides the instances in this week’s story, I have many more that I could use to illustrate the point.
Although this story takes place in New York City following the 9-11 attacks, it is not about the incident itself. If you want to hear about my experiences following the attack, I posted a story about 9-11 on September 12th 2019. Episode 13. That story is quite serious. This is not. And I do not want to disrespect anyone since the setting for today’s story is NYC following that horrible day. It just so happens to be my first exposure to New York City Cops and Firefighters. We were all tired, stressed and over worked. Sometimes you just get some funny results from that combination.
Huge thanks to those of you who are out on the firelines this summer. Your work keeps us, our loved ones and our property safe from wildfires. And also thanks for those of you non-firefighter listeners. You all make this effort worthwhile for me. Hope you enjoy this week’s story and as always, please share my website with your friends.
How we react to tough and challenging situations at work can determine our successes and failures. It’s not always easy to know how to respond to bullies and negative people who can have a direct impact upon our lives and careers. Sometimes we’re dealing with a boss who is the bully and sometimes we have people working for us who are the bully. Of course you have to deal with each of those situations differently and there is NO one right answer. How we decide to deal with challenges like this can depend on many circumstances that we find ourselves in. This story is about one specific set of circumstances and how I dealt with some “challenging employees”. I’m not suggesting this was the best way or even a good way to deal with this group of knuckleheads. But the story you’re about to hear is how I did deal with them. The results were positive although that isn’t proof that my method was the best way.
Be advised that in order to reach these rough tough characters and to accurately retell the story, you’ll hear the F word a few times so if you don’t want to hear that, you might listen to another story instead. Thanks for everyone’s continued support of my story’s.
During our lives we’ll have many instances when we have the opportunity to listen to the little voice we hear coming from the back of our mind. We often want to make decisions based on clear facts. You know… Just the facts mam nothing but the facts. But in reality our decision making is a combination of facts, emoti0ns and some things in-between the two. The “things” in-between are inputs that your brain is receiving but your consciousness might not be recognizing them yet. I’ve had many experiences at work and at home where (after I made the decision) I realized I had been making a decision based in part on intuition.
This story is about a serious accident that nearly killed a young woman and how listening to the little voice in my head may have led to her being rescued.
This week’s story is interesting just on it’s surface, but there’s a whole lot more to it. The story really deals with how we deal with a supervisor. These interactions can be critical to our future profession. Over my working life I’ve often been asked how I gained my wildland fire qualifications so quickly. My flippant answer was because I found water in the desert. This story explains why I said that. But the bigger picture is how I dealt with my supervisors and provided leadership “UP”. We often think about providing leadership down in an organization. But leading up is important but can be difficult to figure out how to do. I’m not suggesting I know all the answers but I can share this example of how I dealt with a few opportunities early in my career.
If you have experiences you’d like to share leave a comment. We need to learn from everyone around us. Thanks for listening everyone.