Your Fire Department is Your People

Training others. Photo by Artie Werkle.

Training others. Photo by Artie Werkle.

… Not your fire trucks, fire houses, not your service. It’s your people. Often we forget this.

Sure, you may know tactics and be a master of moving a hose line or venting a roof. And maybe you can recite your entire medical protocols or never miss an IV, but ultimately it’s about the people and the people that work with you who carry the impact of your leadership . It is your people and your leadership that matters; not your trucks or your houses.

The challenge presents itself equally to both large and small fire departments, to the career organization to the local volunteers. The best fire departments have the best people working inside of them, making them tick, creatively keeping them moving forward, together.

Senior Jake. Photo by Artie Werkle.

Senior Jake. Photo by Artie Werkle.

Your responsibility as a leader is not to lose this valuable perspective as you promote and move up through the organization. It doesn’t matter if you’re the company officer managing three people or the chief officer leading 50 as the battle is still the same. Do you treat each person well and do they believe that you have their best interest in mind? Do they feel respected and an important member of your team? I hope so.

How about you and your company and/or fire department? Have you forgotten what your fire department is really about?

Dust-Devil Becomes “Firenado”

Rocky Mountain firefighters were surprised by the unexpected collision of a dust-devil and a brush fire. It became a “firenado.”

Watch the CNN story here.

Five TED Talks Every Firefighter Should Watch

The TED2014  Conference: The Next Chapter just finished up this week in Vancouver, Canada. It was the conference’s 30th anniversary.

TED Talks are devoted to spreading ideas, and it’s done through short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less) delivered by just about anyone from world leaders to previously unknown school teachers. TED topics include a variety of talks from science to art to leadership to understanding social and global issues. The Talks will make you think and give you a deeper understanding of our world and the roles we play in it.

As firefighters, our mental-ability is just as important as our physical-ability. We must understand why we’re here, how we think, and what we really do that makes a difference. We need thinking leaders at every level.

Here are 5 TED Talks every firefighter should watch:

With help from some surprising footage, Derek Sivers explains how movements really get started. (Hint: it takes two.)
“The key to inspiring a large group? Getting that single first follower.”

Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers …

An orchestra conductor faces the ultimate leadership challenge: creating perfect harmony without saying a word. In this charming talk, Itay Talgam demonstrates the unique styles of six great 20th-century conductors, illustrating crucial lessons for all leaders.

Four-star general Stanley McChrystal shares what he learned about leadership over his decades in the military. How can you build a sense of shared purpose among people of many ages and skill sets? By listening and learning — and addressing the possibility of failure.

With profound simplicity, Coach John Wooden redefines success and urges us all to pursue the best in ourselves. In this inspiring talk he shares the advice he gave his players at UCLA, quotes poetry and remembers his father’s wisdom.

What are your favorite TED Talks?

Always Make a Difference: Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Posted by Paul Combs on March 15, 2013 at Drawn By Fire.

Paul Combs St Paddy-sealbelt

DRAWN BY FIRE Flashback – Take a little Irish advice and buckle up! Stay safe out there and have a happy St. Paddy’s Day, everybody! -Paul Combs

Thinking FAST and SLOW Influences Our Decision Making

Our brains process information in two very distinct ways: One way is FAST thinking which acts automatically based on our experience or what we see, and the other is SLOW thinking where our body speeds up (our muscles tense, our pupils dilate, and our heart rate increases) but our brain slows down. Both FAST and SLOW thinking influence our reactions and drive our decision making.

Depending on the complexity of the situation and the risk involved, firefighters must be able to use either FAST or SLOW thinking.

Watch this short video from AsapSCIENCE for important information about how we make decisions.

How do you practice decision making in complex situations?

Want more information on decision making? Read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow which describes in detail, with several examples, how our brains have two systems, or speeds to help us make decisions. Also a must read is Gary Klein’s Streetlights and Shadows which sums up his take on rapid prime decision making in complex situations.


Practical Firefighting isTechnical Knowledge Backed Up by Intelligence

Technical knowledge backed up by intelligence. Photo by Tim Olk.

Technical knowledge backed up by intelligence. Photo by Tim Olk.

‘No two fires are alike’ is an old and very true Fire Service saying, and therefore technical knowledge must be backed up by intelligence and the ability to grasp the fundamentals of a situation, to initiate a plan of action and to improvise on the spur of the moment.

From the Manual of Firemanship

Finding Firemanship in the Fire Service [Article]

My recent article published at FIREFIGHTERNATION.

Firemanship encompasses many essential traits for firefighters

By Billy Schmidt
Published Sunday, February 3, 2013

Trail Park VFD battling a house fire. As public servants, they understood that fighting fires was something special; they had a firemanship attitude. Pictured is my father, Assistant Chief Billy J. Schmidt (white coat and helmet).

Trail Park VFD battling a house fire. As public servants, they understood that fighting fires was something special; they had a firemanship attitude. Pictured is my father, Assistant Chief Billy J. Schmidt (white coat and helmet).

There’s a lot going on in the world, and as a result our work continues to evolve and become more dynamic. Our communities expect a lot from us; they consider us an essential resource. We don’t just save lives and protect property anymore; we’re called on to handle just about any complex, crazy situation you can think of. It’s not your daddy’s fire service anymore.

But while many things have changed, including technology and equipment, rest assured that our mission, our core values and our responsibilities as firefighters have remained the same. Our version of “combat ready” hasn’t really changed since “The Manual of Firemanship” was issued as a practical handbook for firefighting in England in the 1940s.

Defining “Firemanship”

“The Manual of Firemanship” was issued as a practical handbook for firefighting in England in the 1940s.

“The Manual of Firemanship” was issued as a practical handbook for firefighting in England in the 1940s.

“The Manual of Firemanship” is made up of a series of books and book five, called “Practical Firemanship,” has an introduction that says it all: “No two fires are alike,’ is an old and very true Fire Service saying, and therefore technical knowledge must be backed up by intelligence and the ability to grasp the fundamentals of the situation, to initiate a plan of action and to improvise on the spur of the moment.”

First, know that firemanship is not about gender; rather, it refers to the basic knowledge, skills and abilities that the fire service has used for generations. I’d like to explore the concept of firemanship, its definition and basic components, and explain why it’s important to have a holistic view of firemanship when developing safe and effective firefighters.

Let’s start with a question: What exactly is “firemanship”? Again, we can look to “The Manual of Firemanship” where it describes firefighters as:

  1. Physically fit because working a fire involves great physical exertion
  2.  Courageous, yet calm
  3. Patient, because it can be difficult dealing with people who are in a state of considerable stress;
  4. Taking the  initiative and having the will to keep going;
  5.  Being able to cultivate their powers of observation and have inquiring minds;
  6. Disciplined and able to follow orders; and
  7. Servants of the public (the most important characteristic).

So firemanship is basically the sum of your attitude and firefighting skills. Although those characteristics are a great start, there’s one other very important attribute that all firefighters must have: the right attitude.

Firemanship Attitude

The firemen of the Trail Park Volunteer Fire Department in Lake Worth, Fla., in 1965. They were public servants in their community. Pictured are my father, Billy J. Schmidt (top row, second from right) and my uncle, Edward Schmidt.

The firemen of the Trail Park Volunteer Fire Department in Lake Worth, Fla., in 1965. They were public servants in their community. Pictured are my father, Billy J. Schmidt (top row, second from right) and my uncle, Edward Schmidt.

Attitude is very important in regard to firemanship, because it affects how we look at ourselves, and it starts with a healthy sense of self-esteem. To keep attitude in check, you must perform a self-assessment about who you are and how you value yourself as a person, both privately and publicly. The objective: to keep your sense of self-esteem balanced and healthy. A balanced sense of self-esteem allows for a healthy sense of fairness, dignity and self-respect. Our attitude can also be shaped by our physical and emotional health. A healthy and balanced attitude toward ourselves puts us in the best position to extend dignity and respect to others, the most fundamental ingredients we can strive for.

A firemanship attitude also involves the desire to be and excel as a master firefighter. A master firefighter is someone who strives to obtain expert knowledge, excellent practical skills, a high standard of ethics, behavior and work activities, a sound work morale and motivation. Master firefighters understand that the job is more than having a certificate and getting paid, or forcing a door and stretching a hoseline.

Lastly, a firefighter who exudes a firemanship attitude is someone who realizes that successful firefighting requires the right combination of attitude, firefighting skills, technical skills and social skills. A master firefighter understands that as firefighters, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to ourselves and to others.

A Final Word
The world is a complex, often dangerous place. We as firefighters have a responsibility to our communities to serve as their primary resource when they are in danger or at risk. To be a reliable, professional, successful resource, we need the right knowledge, skills and abilities.  We need to practice the art of firemanship. It begins with attitude, but there’s more. In my next column, I will discuss other skills needed for the art of firemanship.

Be safe and be good.

Reference:
Great Britain. Fire Service Dept: Manual of Firemanship: Theory of firefighting and equipment. H.M. Stationery Office: 1963.

The Right Mindset: I Am Still Learning

Photo by Kim Fitzsimmons

Photo by Kim Fitzsimmons

A few years ago I wrote an article titled, Observing FF Performance-Schmidt. I had observed firefighters for years, both in training and on the fire ground. Some performed significantly better than others, especially during unexpected, stressful situations. Why? My purpose for the article was to identify “what made one firefighter perform better than another?

In the article, I identified three critical factors that were attitudes and attributes that all firefighters with the right mindset shared: an intimate knowledge of and passion for the fire service; a professional attitude that includes understanding the dangers of the job, practicing situational awareness and being able to respond to stressful events; and accepting and following operational procedures.

After listening to The Right Mindset for Success on the HBR Ideacast, I was reminded of another critical factor that contributes to firefighter excellence. It revolves around their minds and how willing they are to grow them. The more-talented firefighters have a growth mindset. In other words, they are always learning. They believe that basic abilities are are developed over time and learned from experience. These firefighters are not just focused on the outcome, they know that the process is what makes the difference. They look for and like a challenge.

The less-talented firefighter, on the other hand, has a fixed mindset. They believe that their talents and abilities are fixed traits; they believe they already have what it takes (hard to believe, but some do think that). Many firefighters can fall into a fixed mindset because of their time on the job (years versus experience), success (they promote fast), or they may just be afraid of making mistakes or venturing out of their comfort zone (really? there are no “comfort zones” in firefighting!). The firefighter with the fixed mindset is more focused on outcome and how they look.

How can we encourage a growth mindset in others? Easy, just set the example. The message we send is really important, and should be practiced, not just said (Listen to what they say; Watch what they do). As leaders, we should send the following messages everyday:

  • We value passion, dedication, growth and learning
  • We don’t know it all and we don’t expect you to know it all, but we do expect all of us to be ready to learn
  • We expect all of us to stretch beyond our comfort zone and take reasonable risks
  • We value process here; we’re not just looking to check another box on a To Do list. We want to get things done right and in the right way.

I’ve had a Latin phrase on my email for years now that says it all for me, Ancora Imparo (I am still learning). Isn’t that really what’s needed for the right mindset?