Lead by example
Submitted by Nicholas Hempel
City of Racine Fire Department, Wisconsin
If you're like me, you told the oral board you want to be a firefighter because you want to help people. Of course, we all know that a big part of joining a department has to do with the excitement of screaming through the streets, red lights glowing, siren blasting and hopes of charging into a burning building to save a life. There's nothing wrong with that enthusiasm, we just have to learn to put it to better use.
Over the years I have mellowed and I now understand the inherent dangers associated with emergency response. It seems that people could care less that you are responding to an emergency and time is of the essence. We no longer can count on the public giving the right-of-way to emergency vehicles, and frankly, it makes a lot of us mad! You've seen and felt the anger at a driver who fails to yield, or runs a red light in front of you. I really love the ones that try to outrun the fire truck, makes me want to chase them down! Like I said, I’ve learned to slow down, stop at intersections and drive very defensively, but what about the new people in our departments? How do we use their enthusiasm, and keep all of us safe during the response? I have a few ideas I would like to share, so, please indulge me and give them some thought.
Be a leader. Sounds simple, but it's surprising how many poor driving habits we have accumulated over the years. Take a good, hard look at your own habits, a little aggressive? A little fast? Probably take a few risks you shouldn't? The first step in being an effective leader is to look at yourself, get to know your strengths and weaknesses, and understand them. You can't ask someone to do things you aren't willing to do yourself. Actions speak louder than words (feel free to use that one!) and we must portray the positive traits we want our people to emulate, every day. In my experience, once you get some buy-in from a couple of key people in the organization, peer pressure takes over and multiplies your efforts greatly. Seatbelts get fastened, brakes are used and common sense becomes common again.
Put that enthusiasm to good use. Assign a training topic to the young people, have them do the research, preparation and presentation, arranging for the equipment and facilities needed. Create mini experts by instilling confidence and a sense of accomplishment in a job well done. Start all of your training with safety being the first priority, we can all learn from each other. By valuing the efforts of others, you not only show leadership, your own opinions and actions gain greater credence. Street school can be boring and tedious, however, by mixing things up, throwing in some closed streets or out of service hydrants, you create critical thinking in everyone. Breakout some incident reports, either from your service or from one of the online resources, and dissect them, discussing what went wrong, what went right and how things could have been changed to affect a better outcome. Assign each member an incident and let them make the decisions and let the group critique each other.
Take personal responsibility for the safe operation of apparatus. Be a teacher, a leader and a mentor, show how much you care in both your words and your actions. With a little effort, you can be that calming voice in their ear, whether you are right next to them or miles away!