What Is Your Training About?

Learning happens and teams perform better when everyone knows and understands the theme of the training drill

One day, back when I was a district chief, I was talking to a crew of firefighters after they had returned to the station from department-wide training. They had participated in a drill that measured their time for performing as a rapid intervention crew (RIC). Obviously, one of the most important tactical skills performed on the fire ground and one that requires consistent training. But was this training (learning) or was it a test?


I asked them a simple question: “What was the training about?” Yes, I knew they were expected to complete a task (move through an obstacle course, find and remove the dummy) while competing against a stopwatch (and the other crews there), but I wanted to know what they really learned from the training? What was the theme?

Here’s what they answered: “It was like a race, and we didn’t win!” “It wasn’t realistic; we wouldn’t be able to do it by ourselves.” “We made lots of mistakes because we felt rushed.” “It was like a firefighter challenge race.”

Time to task is critical when completing any tactical assignment, especially one that rescues one of our own. And it’s specifically important for successfully achieving a strategic goal, like finding and removing a downed or injured firefighter.

A rapid intervention incident is a rescue event that requires the coordination between command and several tactical teams, all while the original operations continue. It’s not a race or a competition. It’s rare that it can be done with only one crew. The tactical component will not execute effectively without the strategic element of command. Both the command team and the tactical teams must be operating with the same strategy, or theme in mind: to remove a downed or injured firefighter to safety.

Learning happens and teams (command and tactical) perform better when everyone knows and understands the theme of the training drill.

Know what your training is about. Understand the theme.

Ask yourself, “What’s the message here?”

One Leadership Style That Covers It All

Daredevil photographer Antonio Grambone, 46, photographed forest fires in the National Park of Cilento and Vallo di Diano in the province of Salerno in Italy.

Daredevil photographer Antonio Grambone, 46, photographed forest fires in the National Park of Cilento and Vallo di Diano in the province of Salerno in Italy.

Via Wiselike:

Do you advocate the same leadership style for all industries? Why or why not? Each industry has different qualities. For instance, people put their lives on the line when they work in fire safety, while retail is about money. Because industries are so different, should leadership styles be different as well? If so, which styles work best for industries such as public safety, health, and retail?

Here’s my answer:

I believe one leadership style works best across all industries. Here’s why.

In the 1990’s, I flew air ambulance trips moving sick and injured patients from one part of the world to another. On one occasion, we were transporting a gentleman from Chicago to Boca Grande, Florida. He was interested in what we did (I was a paramedic and my partner was a nurse) and how we worked as a team of two in a small metal tube (a Lear Jet) flying 400 MPH through the clouds. After thoroughly questioning us, I asked him what he did. He said he owned and operated several companies, describing a variety of organizations ranging from manufacturing to service businesses. I asked him how he knew so much about so many different businesses? He said, “Oh, I know a lot about one thing: How to lead people.”

I believe he’s right. He had one leadership style: servant leadership. He created a bond with the people he worked with and the people his companies provided goods and services to.

The parallels between leading in high-stakes business and leading in high-risk situations are quite the same. Competence, trust, and loyalty are qualities that span across a variety of areas. Whether it’s retail (selling things), non-profits (supporting people and causes), or healthcare (healing people) all involve people and require leaders who are inherently motivated and embrace learning (competent) and have a strong relationship with their followers (trust and loyalty).

I believe that’s servant leadership.

My One Word For 2016: Improvisation

Discover your one word to simplify what you do and inspire you to do something new

A couple of years ago I read the book One Word that will Change Your Life. And it did.myoneword

Since then, instead of a New Year’s Resolution goal I choose one word to focus on for the year. It’s more visionary than just setting goals, and it becomes my guiding principle or ethos.

The Difference Between Goals and Visions


Goals are specific and measurable. We like to call them SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). They have endpoints and once achieved, you’re done. Goals tell us WHAT we need to do.

Here’re a couple of examples of goals:

  • I will read 2 books each month
  • I will loose 10 pounds by April 1, 2016


A vision, on the other hand, is more of a broad idea of HOW you will look or feel in the future. It’s HOW you imagine yourself. Unlike goals, it’s not specific but very open-minded. A vision is harder to put into words, but somehow, it’s a little easier to encompass with one word.

My Previous One Words

In 2014 I chose simplicity, first because I was approaching retirement from my fire department, and second because I had been diagnosed with cancer (this was my second battle in 14 years) and was now responding positively to treatment. That year was the beginning of a major transformation in my life style. Reducing some of life’s clutter, including debt and stuff, and adapting to a less decision-intense world would make my life simpler.

For the year 2015 I remembered the Jimmy Buffett song, Survive. This was a year full of unexpected health snags that attacked my body and my mind. And while I had my share of struggles (recovering from major surgery and being diagnosed and successfully treated for a third time with cancer) in 2015 I did survive. So that was a good word for that year.

My One Word For 2016

Each of my one words has become a foundation to build on for the next year, and this year’s word lifts me even higher. My 2016 word is simply improvisation. Now that I am well into my transformation from a full-time firefighter (I’m still teaching and writing) and feeling better, I will spend less time planning or dreaming and more time doing. I will make more leaps and venture farther and experience new things. I will step outside of my comfort zone.

Discover Your One Word

Using the one word concept can help you, your family, your team, or your organization simplify what you do and inspire you to do something new, better, or more fun. Here are a few resources to help you find your one word:

Read the book One Word that will Change Your Life

Watch John Saddington’s Vlog One Word: Team

Visit GetOneWord.com

Reading Is Back!

New fire leaders are waking up to the fact that they are in charge of their own leadership growth

There’s a cultural shift coming on in the fire service: Books and reading are on the wave of the future.E33 Bookmark-crop

The big professional publishers and conference industry doesn’t get credit for this. Oh, they’re hardworking and certainly blast the message (and products) onto the scene. Credit goes to the new fire leaders, who are passionate and seem to be collectively waking up to the fact that they are in charge of their own leadership growth. That’s called self-leadership.

If you believe that “good” leadership is important, then self-leadership will help you get there. Be part of a trend and read more!


If you know me, you know that “I am still learning.” That’s what my brick at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Walk of Honor located on the grounds of the National Fire Academy in Emittsburg, Maryland says. The words, “Ancora Imparo,” are said to have been spoken by Michelangelo on his 87th birthday. Translated from Italian, “Ancora Imparo” simply means “I am still learning.” I have always believed that we have to be constant learners, always discovering new and better ways for living and working together. So, what better place to say this than at the NFA, a setting for learning and improving.

On Retiring: Mentorship

Mentoring relationships are friendships that help shape your future.

Mentorship has been a crucial part of my safety and success in the fire service. It’s been enlightening to have a variety of people over the years that I could observe. They included firefighters and civilians from all ages and life experiences. My mentors had been places I’d never been, read books or listened to leaders I hadn’t heard of, and and done things I had never done. Many of them experienced the pain and processes that I would go through, and there was a lot I learned  from them. I believe I was able to take away many lessons from them to help me work with and lead firefighters.


How did I find my mentors? It really wasn’t through any official program or plan I followed. I just stayed curious, so it came pretty easy and naturally. They were people with the same general passions that I had: always trying to do their best, to work better with others, and to find ways to help others. Here are three ways I found them:

  1. They were accessible to me. They were other firefighters, officers, teachers, community leaders, and friends and family. They were people I worked with, worked for, and met casually, sometimes in a classroom or coffee shop.
  2. They were people I met when I traveled. I attended the National Fire Academy and many conferences and seminars where I met new people who enriched my thinking and world view.
  3. They were people I listened to or read about. Some were speakers I watched on  TED videos, while others I found in an assortment of magazines and books I read, from fiction to biographies to business.

Mentoring relationships are valuable. They don’t have to be complicated programs; they should just be simple friendships that help you shape your future.

Use Storytelling Instead Of Telling

Fire service leaders need to be great teachers. And great teachers use storytelling to make their points memorable. Consider the stories told by Alan Brunacini about Mrs. Smith in Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service or the drawings by Paul Combs from Drawn By Fire. We read. We see. We hear. We remember.Leadership-All-Bark-No-Bite Reciting the department’s goals, pointing to a mission statement on the wall, and drilling on policies and procedures are not enough. We will ignite more emotion and spark more thinking by telling stories that convey the why, how and what we are trying to do.

Here are five elements that will help you tell better stories:

  1. Good stories will resonate within us. Good stories will connect with our mindset, or why we do what we do. The actions or the characters portrayed in the story will stir something inside of us, helping us to identify the right and the wrong.
  2. Good stories show accomplishments and lessons learned. Good stories will show the steps that lead to success and the errors that bring on catastrophe. We learn from both.
  3. Good stories point to a greater cause. Good stories help answer the question, “Why are we here?” They help identify the real purpose for being here and doing what we do.
  4. Good stories teach, but in a different way. To present the truth, we can easily present a chart, graph, or bullet points. But telling a story will allow people to see your honesty and passion for your cause.
  5. Good stories open the door for critical thinking. We don’t have to explain everything. Leave room for the listener to form their own ideas and ask questions.This allows for more dialogue and engagement.

Question: Do you think storytelling is a better way to make your points memorable?

Do You Respond To Fires? Read This

August 17, 2014

Firefighters routinely respond to incidents where the contents of a structure, car, or garbage can contain unknown  hazards. On some of those incidents we discover the “bad stuff,” while others remain a mystery. That is until later in our lives, usually around retirement, we begin to suffer from the exposure through some type of cancer or other disease.

Please! Use your all of your senses, including “good sense,” and be aware of the unknown hazards we face and practice effective exposure protection.