On Retiring: Two Things I Learned

It takes both physical and mental skills.

After 31 years of fun and adventure, I retire from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue at the end of this week. I spent this last month visiting as many stations and crews as I could. During my visits with my brother and sister firefighters, I listened to the colorful conversations and looked around at the diversity of experience, ranging from brand new probies to officers with over 20 years of know-how. I suddenly realized that over the course of my fire service career I acquired an assortment of both physical and mental skills that have helped me be a ready firefighter and a servant leader.

Be Ready For Anything

The fire service is dangerous business. People, both those we serve and those we serve with are counting on us. When the community calls, whether they’re a mother with two children trapped inside of a locked apartment filled with thick, black smoke or a lonely grandmother who just wakes up scared late at night and needs some reassurance, they are counting on us. We represent hope for them and we have to be ready. We can’t just settle for competence; we have to be masters at what we do and work as a team. We have to be ready for anything. We have to be ready firefighters.

Practicing extrication with my crew.

Practicing extrication with my crew.

From day one at the fire academy and throughout my career, I learned those obvious skills required of every firefighter – maintaining and operating tools and equipment, driving apparatus, stretching hose lines, directing fire streams, opening a roof with an axe (now a saw), removing glass from windows, crawling through a house filled with smoke, and many more things. And because we’re a “fire rescue” service, I learned the EMS skills every paramedic uses to save lives – patient evaluation, intubating, starting IVs, giving medications, and defibrillating patients. I had to be a master at what I do. I had to be ready for anything.

Put Others First

When followers work in complex and dangerous situations, leadership makes the difference between life, injury, or death. Those firefighters at risk desperately need leadership that looks out for them – they need servant leaders.

Standing proud with my Station 31 crew.

Standing proud with my Station 31 crew.

Becoming a company and chief officer meant that I get good at other things – communicating effectively by talking to people, listening to them, and understanding them. I developed into a fast, effective decision maker, employing sound judgement and logical reasoning, and using resources wisely in chaotic conditions. I became a motivator, in good times and bad, inspiring and guiding others toward goals and objectives. I created detailed, executable plans for training, inspections, and other operations. I learned to assess situations and people to facilitate constant improvement. I grew other leaders, investing time and effort to develop their individual leadership skills. I became a builder of teams, spending time and resources to help them get better. I stayed curious and came to be a continuous learner, seeking self-improvement and organizational growth, while remaining adaptable, envisioning the future, and helping lead change. I truly believed that to ensure a safer organization that continues to get better, I had to put others first.

I guess my simple message is this: Maintain your skills and work to improve them. Stay curious, keep exploring and discovering, and continue to learn and grow. Always think of others and put them first. It takes both physical and mental skills to be a ready firefighter and a servant leader.

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