Many years ago I was a Division Supervisor on a fire in the northern rockies. Listen in to how I dealt with, or didn’t deal too well, with some of the line medics assigned to my Division. You’ll get a good laugh at this one.
Leadership can be difficult. It can cause the leader to second guess themselves and question if they’re doing the right thing. Today we have two stories. The first one is a good example of both me and my fire chief not doing that “one good thing”. The second story is an example of the good that can come from doing the “one good thing”. I hope you find some use from this story and please share it with your friends and co-workers.
Diversity in our firefighting workforce sounds like just another politically motivated issue. And there are some who may try to pick up the torch and run with it just to help “their side.” But the issue isn’t about politics. It’s about service to the public. How do we as fire service professionals provide the very best cost effective and efficient service to the public? I’m not going to discuss all the details of why it’s important for a fire department to reflect the community they protect including women and minorities of all types. That discussion would be long and could get heated with some old school folks. But take a few minutes to watch an interview that has been on the Seattle PBS station. I think you’ll find it interesting.
While reading some blogs and webpages for people effected by the latest round of devastating wildfires, it occured to me that everyone is incredibly stressed right now. Homeowners have had to flee for their lives, leaving pets and all their worldly possessions. Once evacuated they’re not allowed to re-enter their neighborhood. Now away from their home, they have to live in someone else’s home or camp out. School, mail delivery, jobs… its all up in the air while you don’t even know if your home is still ok or if it is a pile of ash. That’s a horrible thought.
The firefighters too are dealing with stress. Some of them may have left their homes as well while not knowing if they’ve survived the fire storms. Additionally, firefighters are dealing with great stressors while they fight the fire. Short of sleep, long arduous days, frustrations of not having enough resources to fight the fire, problems associated with their tasks, etc. The list goes on and their frustrations have to be kept under control.
Keep in mind that the same firefighters working so hard today have probably been at it for months now. Federal firefighters move from one part of the country to another as the fire season evolves. Those hotshot crews in Arizona in April are now in California in late August and September. The engine and crew firefighters have been working more than 16 hours a day for months now. They may get a couple days off every two weeks, but they’re under a lot of stress too.
Please share this story with your friends and family, especially if they’re anywhere near a fire.
As firefighters we usually try to portray ourselves as tough and capable. And for the most part we are. But even tough firefighters have emotions. This story isn’t about all the bad things we’ve seen and the emotional toll it takes on our mental health. But it is about the emotional let down that we may experience after a long two or three week wildland fire assignment. Everyone is different of course. This week’s story is just about my own reactions to the stresses of a long stressful fire assignment. I’d love to hear your comments about your own experiences. Please leave a comment.
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.
I would never want listeners to think I’m man bashing. I loved working with the guys during my long fire career. But some men have been a bit more fun to work with than others. Today I’m going to tell you two stories. In the first story, the guy was clearly just mansplaining. And in the end, I hope he learned something about how to communicate with people. I learned something too. I learned that when the time is right, you have to stand up for yourself, even if it’s in a subtle non confrontational manner.
I think the guy in the second story was just testing me. He was also clearly messing with me. A form of hazing or pranking maybe. He was having some fun at my expense. It’s something I was quite used to and knew how to deal with. How we deal with these episodes in life can determine how we’re perceived, how well we’re accepted or not and how successful we are. This particular knucklehead and I became great friends. We went on to work well together and we continued to prank each other. I was just as guilty as he was. The score was tied by the time we both retired.
I hope you’re continuing to find my stories entertaining. But more importantly, I hope you find them useful, especially if you’re working in the fire service. Thanks for listening everyone and don’t forget to share this site with your friends.
Every year before the 4th of July, fireworks stands open up around the country. Depending on where you live, your access to certain types of fireworks may be restricted or maybe not. Some jurisdictions restrict aerial type fireworks, but some don’t. Even if fireworks are illegal in one city or county, they can easily be purchased elsewhere and brought in to another jurisdiction. During my 45 years in the fire service I’ve witnessed so many crazy incidents related to mis-use and mis-handling of fireworks. The same piece of fireworks may be safe in one location but totally unsafe in another depending on surrounding vegetation and age of the person using them. I have witnessed homes damaged by fire from a bottle rocket and injuries from the mishandling of easily purchased fireworks. Every firefighter has their own experiences with fireworks. It’s inevitable to be exposed to some crazy stuff. Hope you enjoy this week’s story and please comment and let me know where you heard about this website from. Thanks for listening everyone.
Many fire departments and wildland fire agencies are currently preparing for the upcoming wildfire season. In parts of our country the season has been underway for some time but in much of the west, firefighters are spending time in “refresher classes” and taking their introductory wildland fire courses. Often times when we are sitting in those classes we’re thinking how we’ve heard this all before… or nothing is really going to happen that I haven’t already experienced, etc, etc. We minimize our risk and the more years of experience we have the less we think we have to learn.
Today’s story is a shortened version of a tragic wildfire where 6 firefighters were killed in a burn over. I’m telling this story to try and motivate firefighters to pay attention and take seriously their annual fire refresher training and other training courses. I hope hearing what happened to some experienced firefighters will help you stay focused during your training.
In the early 2000s, the Incident Management Team I was a member of was dispatched to a hurricane on the gulf coast. These assignments were always challenging and fascinating to be a part of. I always learned a lot when I responded to a major emergency but this particular one was especially so. There are lessons for all of us in this story no matter what kind of work we do. I hope you find it interesting and educational and as always I appreciate any constructive feedback. Thanks for listening.
In life we don’t always get a second chance. It’s great when we do get that second chance but it doesn’t always happen. Hopefully we learned from an earlier experience and improve the next time. Life is just a series of experiences and opportunities for learning. Sometimes I’m not sure I’ve learned the lesson and maybe that’s why I have to repeat a similar experience over and over. Kind of like Ground Hog day. But in the fire service we use a simple exercise called an After Action Review or AAR. It’s just a simple process where the people involved review what happened and consider what might have been done differently and better the next time. It’s a great way to learn. This is common in the military as well as the fire service. Other groups use the AAR exercise to learn from as well. We would all benefit from conducting group AAR exercises or even just personal ones to improve our performance.
Today’s story is about a time that as a Captain of an engine company I really messed up. But I was fortunate to have an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and get a do-over. I was thinking of how it might be appropriate to think of this story in terms of our current Corona Virus situation. I hope we as a country as well as individually learn how to do better next time. Stay safe everyone and pay attention to the Center for Disease Control and your local officials. The life you save might be that of your firefighters, EMTs and hospital workers. Thanks for listening.
When first responders work long hours, are under pressure to protect lives and property, they can often become exhausted from the pressures of the job. This week I illustrate some examples of what that might look like. The examples I site are just a few and are not at all complete in any way. The list is long and exhaustive and can be very personal. I hope after listening to this story you’ll think about yourself in whatever job you spend your time in as well as those around you. If you’ve listened to my story about 9-11 or PTSD, you’ll hear some common themes. Take care of yourself, love yourself and those around you and don’t feel like you have to act like a hero all the time.
I appreciate everyone listening and please share this story with your friends. Thanks.
Back in 1996 I had recently quit my job as a Fire Captain at my Fire Department and had returned to school to get my Masters Degree. So I wasn’t currently working for a Fire Department or a Wildland Fire Agency. Instead I had been hired as a temporary firefighter for the summer and had been working for a State Agency and the Forest Service. Because I already had 22 years of experience at that point and carried the commensurate fire qualifications, I was utilized as a Division Supervisor when assigned to active fires. This particular fire was located in eastern Oregon. I was excited for the dispatch because I had never fought a fire in Oregon at this point of my career. So off I went to Oregon as I describe in the following audio story.
What is significant in this story was my perception of the man I was working for. I had never met him before but from the way he spoke to me, I assumed he thought I was a bit of a drone. But as you’ll hear in this story, he had a direct and lasting positive impact on my career. The lesson I learned from this is to not judge based on some hasty communications or limited knowledge of someone. My advice to other younger and often female firefighters I’ve mentored is to not be scared away from the gruff communications style of some of their supervisors. You don’t really know what’s going on behind his mustache. I hope you enjoy the story and please leave comments. Thanks.
Over the years I’ve had some challenges to my leadership at fires. This story relates 3 separate instances one summer that have had a long term impact on me. I believe people are mostly good and mean to do well. But when folks are stressed and firefighters are often stressed at a fire, they may respond differently to an authority figure than they might do otherwise. It’s true that some men might not like taking orders from a female fire chief. You might think this wasn’t common but it surely was. Add to this dynamic that after 25 years of firefighting I just had no patience for putting up with any macho BS. Looking back on this time period I felt like a “quick draw” gunfighter. If someone was disrespectful or insubordinate I pulled my six shooter and kicked them off the fire. Strong women in positions of authority are often called a bitch. It’s not surprising and it’s not new. But the majority of guys who thought I was a bitch eventually come around to being a respected co-worker once we’ve worked together longer. Most of the knuckle dragging firefighters eventually come around.
See how I reacted to these challenges. In hindsight I could have done some things a bit better but it makes for a great story. Enjoy the story. Share and tell your friends. Thanks.