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?

Getting Your People to Change Starts With You

Old_firefightersGetting your people to change starts with you.

Actions speak louder than words, and we hear it all the time, “It’s hard to change people with deeply embedded traditional behaviors!”

To be innovative and keep up with the rapidly changing complexities in our world, WE must be willing to change our behaviors and beliefs. And leaders must go first and set the pace and ideal behaviors for the rest of the organization. 

Here’s a way WE can begin to change:

  • WE need to be brutally honest about the behaviors that we must change.
  • WE must be willing to move away from what we all know as the business of yesterday.
  • WE have to build speed through trust. As trust goes up, work and time to results go down.

How do you get yourself motivated to make the change in the first place? When should you take massive action verses practicing incremental change?

What is Intentional Command?

Managing stress, staying mindful & other strategies for leadership

By Billy Schmidt
Published at FirefighterNation on Sunday, August 11, 2013

Intentional Commanders influence others with a purpose. Photo by Artie Werkle

Intentional Commanders influence others with a purpose. Photo by Artie Werkle

Intention is a determination to act in a certain way—with resolve. Intentional commanders can efficiently synchronize resources and effectively attack rapidly evolving, complex and severe problems.

Every day, fire departments respond to dangerous situations with commanders who personally direct complex operations. Officers need a better understanding of how to command these highly dynamic and unpredictable environments where everyone engages in actions that place their physical and psychological wellbeing at risk. These unique leadership demands require that commanders prepare themselves and their teams for the psychological, social and organizational challenges they will face when operating in a dangerous and chaotic context.

Command Process
My interest in becoming a more intentional commander originated from my experience with managing multiple resources in complex settings. This study into how command influences a situation has helped me to step back and take a larger look at the workings of the entire command process. It’s raised my awareness of the importance of the underlying behaviors and mechanics of a functioning command team and how its success determines the development of achievable strategies and the delivery of effective tactics.

After many years of commanding a variety of incidents, taking command courses and practicing the command process, I’ve discovered that most command literature and training lacks the essential elements of managing stress, staying mindful of purpose and building mutual trust between the commander and the team. My intent here is to address the unique challenges faced by commanders, while offering a better perspective of how they can influence their firefighters and the situation as a leader.

The Current State of Command
Plenty of today’s emergency scene problems are the natural consequence of command’s ineffective or misdirected influence on the behavior of the firefighting force. It’s ironic that when you ask some incident commanders (ICs) what constitutes command, you often get standard answers like strategies, tactics, span of control, accountability, communication and benchmarks. Usually, there’s no reference to the central task of a commander—influencing their firefighters and the situation as the leader.

Commanding dangerous events isn’t easy. Whether working a structure fire with a quick rescue that requires fast thinking or mitigating an escalating chemical emergency that demands a slow, methodical approach, there must be a clearly defined, well-organized and purposeful command. Command must be intentional and it must be in control at all times.

Many ICs operate in a status-quo mode where they do a radio “play-by-play” for dispatch and let the crews carry the burden of tactical execution without a defined strategy. Others micromanage each minute and every detail until the event outpaces them and everyone runs for cover. These approaches to command are ineffective, especially when faced with complex or severe problems, which nowadays are a common occurrence.

How do we establish a command that meets the unique psychological, social and organizational challenges that arise in highly dynamic and unpredictable situations? We become intentional commanders.

Defining Intentional Command
Much of commandership has to do with intention. As commanders, we don’t choose our situations, but we do get to determine how to respond to them. A good example of this comes from General Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower obviously didn’t make World War II happen, but he approached it with a steadfast goal to influence the war. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, he planned and directed the invasion of Normandy, including the competing agendas of the commanders and politicians involved. Eisenhower was an intentional commander.

The Intentional Commander is caring, trustworthy and self-confident. Photo by Artie Werkle

The Intentional Commander is caring, trustworthy and self-confident. Photo by Artie Werkle

Intentional command is influencing others with purpose. A strong desire and motivation to command will help commanders perform at their best. The intentional commander is caring, trustworthy and self-confident. This establishes the image of competent commanders as credible and reliable decision-makers. As a commander, you’re here for one reason: to support the firefighters you are going to lead. You’re responsible for keeping them alive and accomplishing the mission. You owe them your bugles, because this isn’t about you.

A Vision of Intentional Command 
More needs to be studied and said about what a commander is, should be and, more importantly, what they should do. Most fire officers have a clear sense about the responsibilities of command and they work hard at expanding the skills of situation assessment, developing strategies and prioritizing tactics. But many miss critical elements, including managing stress, staying mindful of their purpose, building strong teams, earning trust and leveraging their fire department’s culture to be ready to meet the challenges of operating in dangerous environments. Future columns will address the unique psychological, social and organizational skills that individuals and teams need to develop and practice their intentional command.

Until then, be safe and help people.

How do you influence your firefighters in complex situations? How have you established your position as a credible, reliable commander?

We Need to Read More [Article]

My recent article in the IAFC On Scene.

Firefighter/EMT Safety, Health & Survival: We Need to Read More

Return to the September 15, 2013 issue of On Scene

With the current challenges the fire service faces today, with ever-increasing responsibilities and danger, we need all the help we can get.

We must continue to build our analytical skills with the intuitive leadership skills necessary for success in our complex and chaotic world. We must encourage a commitment to lifelong learning and development. We need to produce leaders who are mentors, coaches and counselors: leaders who create conditions for development.

So where do we begin? We begin by reading more.

We know that the military and other professions strongly believe in reading programs to develop their leaders. In 1777, urging the officers of the Continental Army to read, George Washington wrote, “As War is a Science, and a great deal of useful knowledge and Instruction to be drawn from books, you are to cause your Officers to devote some part of their time to reading Military authors …”

So, why wouldn’t this concept work for the fire service? Actually, it does and I want to propose a challenge to everyone: To read more!

I’ve always counted on books to help me. Regardless of the problem I faced or the topic I was interested in, I have always found a book to help me through it. Truly, books have transformed my career and my life. I can look back over time and point to specific books that have influenced my thinking and helped me to grow as a leader.

Professional development comes in many forms—through training, hands-on experience and yes, even reading. The real purpose isn’t to just read, but to inspire discussion on different topics as well.

A professional reading program provides a selection of readings that support continuous improvement within the fire service. Reading programs add depth and breadth to firefighters’ development at any stage of their careers and are important to leadership growth. Abraham Lincoln said, “The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I [haven’t] read.”

Reading is essential to self-education and lifelong learning; the fire service can only get better if more of us take time to read. Read as if the quality of our lives depends on it, because it does. Reading will make us better.

Do you have a professional reading program at your fire department? Do your chief officers publish a reading list each year? Here are links to some reading lists to help you develop leaders within your departments:

Billy Schmidt is a battalion chief for Palm Beach County (Fla.) Fire Rescue and a member of the Safety, Health and Survival Section.

Here’s a list of books to help launch you on your way to better leadership through reading. Most of these aren’t specific to firefighting, but they’re transferrable to the fire service; their insights on leadership apply as much to the fire service as to leadership the military, politics or business:

  • Human factors – how we think and act:
    • Better: A Surgeon’s Notes On Performance (Atul Gawande)
    • Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking (Malcolm Gladwell)
    • Deep Survival; Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (Laurence Gonzalez)
    • Blue Threat: Why To Err Is Inhuman (Tony Kern)
  • Leadership and management – what we strive to be:
    • The One Minute Manager (Kenneth H. Blanchard; Spencer Johnson)
    • Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t(Jim Collins)
    • In Extremis Leadership: Leading As If Your Life Depended On It (Thomas A. Kolditz)
    • First In, Last Out: Leadership Lessons from the New York Fire Department (John Salka)
  • Case studies – leadership examples from other fields, places and times:
    • Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (Stephen E. Ambrose)
    • Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Robert Coram)
    • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
    • San Francisco Is Burning (Dennis Smith)

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

What One Important Thing?

If you could go back 5, 10, or 20 years in your fire service career, what’s the one important thing you would tell yourself?

I believe the one thing that really counts is, “knowing that everyone is watching.” Throughout our careers, beginning on day one, everyone is watching what we do; why we’re here and how we handle ourselves in tough situations. Our actions influence whether other people will follow us, or avoid us. The greatest compliment we can receive is for someone to tell us, “I was watching you, and because of you I am here.”

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.

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

Remember Robin Williams: Carpe Diem!

“Gather Ye rose buds while ye may old time is still flying, and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.”

~Robert Herrick

The role of leadership is vital to “moving things forward”; your personal leadership, your team, and your fire department. Watch Robin Williams in this short video from the movie Dead Poets Society as he steps outside the box and gets things moving forward. Think about those firefighters who came before you – their thoughts, hopes, and service. And remember, don’t wait until it’s too late – Carpe Diem!

Thank you Robin Williams.

Where Leadership Starts [Article]

My latest article published at FIREFIGHTERNATION.

Can Leadership be taught or learned in the fire service?

By Billy Schmidt
Published Friday, October 12, 2012

Leadership has always played an important played role in the fire service. Leaders are responsible for everything their firefighters do, or fail to do. Everything we do in the delivery of our service is about leadership; it’s who we are and it’s what makes us different from most organizations. Leadership is our lifeblood.

Future Leadership

At FRI 2012, Astronaut Mike Mullane says that leaders must be able to make mid-course corrections while remaining focused on the goal. Photo courtesy IAFC.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the leadership required for the future fire service. During his keynote address at the Fire-Rescue International 2012 conference in Denver, astronaut Mike Mullance described how leaders must set lofty goals, accept the unchangeable, make mid-course corrections around obstacles, and tenaciously remain focused on the goal. In other words, leaders need to be self-aware and adaptable. Specifically, fire service leaders must be able to use their situational awareness to adapt to changing conditions and not get stuck in a static command mindset. In other words, they must be able to master transitions in the chaos of 21st-century fire service operations.

Being adaptable allows leaders to successfully handle unexpected situations, providing them with something that author and leadership pioneer Warren Bennis calls a “crucible experience.” A crucible experience is a defining moment for leaders that unleashes abilities, sharpens focus and forces critical decisions. It’s a moment or event where a leader finds out who they really are. Bennis believes that adaptive capacity is the critical quality that determines how a leader will fare in a crucible experience. Adaptive capacity allows leaders to observe and orient themselves with the right information, and then make decisions and respond quickly and intelligently to constant change.

The Core Assumptions of Adaptive Leadership
There are two core assumptions of adaptive leadership. The first is that leadership is about skills and can be learned by anyone. The second is that the capacity of fire departments to adapt to new realities depends on whether the culture expects leadership throughout the organization or just from the top-ranking officers. Let’s now explore the two core assumptions in greater detail.

Leadership can be learned: The issue of whether leadership can be taught or learned has long been debated. I personally believe that leadership is learned more than it is taught. Leadership, in my mind, is not just a theory to follow or a particular set of words to use, especially during complex and dangerous situations. Real leadership is adaptive to each situation; it must be innovative and mentally agile. In today’s dynamic environment, leaders must be more creative and confident as they learn to handle the complexities of an uncertain world. Leadership isn’t developed through the teaching of theories in the classroom; it is accomplished through the individual desire to learn how to lead—something that builds skill and enhances education. Leadership isn’t something that someone can teach in a class; it can’t be broken down into basic steps that people must follow to become leaders. Rather, leadership is learned over time and through experience.

Where does the leadership reside? An organization’s capacity to adapt to new realities depends on whether the culture expects leadership throughout the organization or just from the top-ranking officers. We should have realized by now that, in rapidly changing situations where firefighters on the fireground must constantly adapt to new and unanticipated realities, the creativity and judgment that are elements of leadership must come from everyone in the organization. Leadership is needed at every level, in every situation, all the time.

Get Adaptable
“Adaptability” should become a buzzword throughout the fire service because of the new way we do business. This is the fire service’s introduction to the next generation of firefighting. In order to move toward becoming “learning organizations” where leaders practice adaptability, the fire service must change its culture—especially the way it develops leaders. It’s a tall challenge, but the future looks good.

So, how is the leadership in your organization? Where does the responsibility lie for developing leadership—in the classroom or with the individual? Do your firefighters have the necessary skills to adapt and survive in the accelerated dynamics and uncertainty of the fireground?

These questions are a good place to start.

Are We Training Enough on Command and Control?

cfd-alexander-2-olkIn a National Fire Academy Alumni blog, John Bierling asks, “Is command failure an acceptable incident outcome?” He continues with this:

Nearly every NIOSH Firefighter LOOD investigation report states that one of the contributing factors is the failure to adequately “Command and Control” the incident. How is this possible? Fire Chiefs across the country will say, “We establish Command at every incident and the fire service is good at ICS.” If that’s true, why the consistent command failure when the incident goes bad? Does the incident go bad because of “command failure” or do we fail to adequately command when the pressure is on and the need is greatest?

My question is, “Are we dedicating enough time to practicing ICS for incidents that stretch our span of control? I don’t believe we are. Recent studies of command and control (C/C) during rapid intervention operations in my area found that there is little hands-on, realistic training on C/C of single and multi-alarm incidents, or as part of a RIC or Rapid Intervention Group deployment. That’s unacceptable!

At our fire department, we just completed a Command and Control Decision Making course to begin to address this issue. The program, based on the NFA command and control curriculum,  was designed for our new district chiefs. The course focused on identifying problems (5 boxes), making decisions, and span of control (again 5) for one and two-alarm fires. Using a variety of real-fire videos (including sound) to create a certain level of stress, students role-played command positions ranging from incident command, command aide, safety, and division and group supervisors. The outcome for the students was better situational awareness, decision making, communication, and teamwork.

Command is about situational awareness and decision making, and control requires practice. Anyone expected to play the “command” role must continuously study command operations and practice realistic command scenarios. Command and control must have the same amount of training focus and attention as firefighter tactics and tasks. After all, without command and control can we really accomplish the tactics?

How much time do you dedicate to practicing ICS for incidents that stretch your command and control? What type of training do you use?