Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Best Advice

I am sure all of us could say we have worked for great officers and for bad officers.  I also believe one could advocate that the bad officers teach you more about being a quality officer than the good ones.  In my previous department, I had the fortune to work for an officer who was one of the best in the Department.  He treated me just like a rookie should be,  he gave me a hard time, pushed me to be better, mentored me, and most of all taught me about many parts of the service, especially tactically.  I was assigned to him straight out of rookie school, and rode the back with two of the best firefighters around.  When I left that department for my current one, he was mad that I left but had done everything in his power to help me get the job with the new department.  To me that showed me what kind of man he truly is.

When I was promoted to Company Officer a few years ago, I of course invited him so he had such a large influence on me over time.  He had some issues and was unable to attend but he did take the time to send me this email below. He gave me permission to put this out there, but he will remain nameless.

"You are about to venture on the most challenging yet rewarding job you have faced in the fire service.  There will be times when you will think why didn't I stay a firefighter but those days will soon disappear.  I have this quote, that I keep on my desk, and I look at it often, "a leader with great passion and few skills will always out perform a leader with great skills and no passion".  You are lucky, you have the passion for the fire service and the knowledge, skills and ability to be an outstanding Captain, not everyone has both.  Keep that passion and work to develop those skills, and you will rise to the top.

Remember this, "if everyone below you is successful then you are successful and if they fail it is because you failed them".  Keep a humble attitude towards you men make sure they know that when the team is successful they did it, and when the team fails you did it.  When they know you have their back and will take hits for them, they are more likely to have yours.

Always remember to hold the fire (where is it at and where is it going, cut it off) until the Calvary arrives and never forget the hook.

You are truly missed.  I hope you know that I think the world of you and desperately hate not being there."

Once I read this, I saw its true meaning.  He wanted me to be a true leader.  I didn't need to read an 800 page book to figure that out, it was all right there in this short email.  The key is passion, not the most degrees, not the most certifications, but passion. defines passion as "any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate."

Passion is something that can't be taught in a class, can't be found in the book, its in your heart.  It is easily identifiable in a group, it is found in many firehouses but unfortunately not all.  It is something that can be developed and can easily become contagious, but it doesn't just show up when the Battalion Chief brings the mail.

Also, as the definition points out, passion can be love or hate.  Passion is a powerful  emotion and can have some negative results if it is negative.  SO as you can see, we have to watch which way our emotions carry us.  Too often and too easily we (me included) are sucked into a negative conversation regarding our department, station, a call, etc.  We must step above these petty gripes and insist on excellence.  Taking the "high road" is harder, but that why it isn't just called "the road" it is a step above.  An emotion that we can channel into promoting excellence is one we need more of in today's fire service.  Our profession is under assault by politicians, manpower, benefits, and many other parts of the service are being attacked.  If there ever was a time where firefighters needed to channel passion in a positive direction, it is clearly today, right now.

Passion is also that thing that keeps you going when you are having an off day, its the thing that makes you get in the gym while everyone else naps, its the thing that makes you explore parts of the job you may not enjoy, but that you need to know.  A passion for the fire service is a great thing, the thirst that it brings inevitably forces more knowledge, proficiency, and skill on the individual who has it.  To see passion for the fire service, look for the firefighter studying NIOSH reports after morning clean up, look for the firefighter marking the balance points on the ladders, look for the firefighter who knows who John Norman, Frank Brannigan, and Andy Fredricks are, and what they accomplished for the fire service.  We all talk about how great the job we have is, but how many of us want to have the passion to make it great for the next generation?

Nick Martin had a quote during the recent "Combat Ready" class that I attended that really hit home with me.  He had a slide that said:

"Its not how you make the mistake, it's how you recover"

Having a passion for the job makes that recovery that much easier.  I make mistakes all the time, as do all of us, but passion feeds my recovery from those mistakes.  Passion leads me to a resolution, and to improve whatever process needs to be fixed to avoid the same mistake happening again.  Passionate firefighters don't let their ego get in the way of learning a new technique, trick, or a battle hardened skill that will help them be better at their job.  In fact, these firefighters seek out these tidbits, to make them more effective on the emergency scene.

It is our job as passionate firefighters to spread this "disease" as some people can call it to everyone we can.  Some see passion as a problem because you are "Eat up" or have no life, but the passionate folks know that more often than not, it isn't true.  If you have the "disease" of passion, don't treat it, spread it to everyone who wants to carry it.  The resources are out there to ignite the passion on your own.  As I posted a short time ago, use your network to keep the faith if you can't do it on your own. 

My former officer's email should bring up some points for you officers and aspiring officers to remember.  Please read it to ensure you didn't miss some of his lessons to live by.

Now get up, get out there and infect somebody with the passion for the job.   

Also, "Never forget the hook".


  1. I hope that you will share your lessons learned with your fellow company officers. It is very refreshing to hear from a company officer who actually "get's it" about the job and responsibilities that you have.

    Best of luck on your career and I hope that you will share what you have learned to those who serve under you.

    Bruce Bjorge
    Asst. Chief Training Division
    Western Taney County Fire District
    Taney County, MO

  2. Thanks for the feedback. This one is really an important one to me. I try to live by some of his advice everyday.

  3. Well said. I think that now days, so many departments look at what certification someone might have, and not the passion they have for the job. Someone with the passion will train harder and try to learn more to better serve their community. Each time I get on the truck, no matter the call, I still have the desire to help someone in need and potentially make a difference in their life.

  4. so true..some don't understand what we do and think we (those of us who are passionate about the fire service) have no life. We do have a life. Probably a much more meaningful one than the average "cool" person ever will.

  5. Awesome information for those willing to learn... for Passion brings on Compassion which is a strong part of the fire service..