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)