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Don’t talk smack – and other life advice for firefighters

Going beyond Chief Brunacini’s guidance to “Be nice”


“Being kind to others sets the positive example for successful leadership,” writes Buckman.

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Chief Alan Brunacini told us to “Be nice.” He was talking primarily about how we treat “Mrs. Smith,” our customer, but this advice applies to how we treat each other as well.

Remember, how you treat others often determines how you will be treated. With this in mind, let’s review some time-tested advice that applies to all ranks.

Don’t talk smack. Bullying, harassing, bad-mouthing and talking behind each others back are not appropriate actions among our brother and sister firefighters.

Look for the good. Consider how you tend to think about people and situations. Are you positive or negative? Can you find the good in others or do you instinctively look for the bad?

Show appreciation. Appreciate others and recognize how they have impacted your success.

Forgive those who have hurt you. Others will, from time to time, say mean or even spiteful words. Listen to the words, determine if they are incorrect and, if so, then let them go. Do not hold a grudge.

Listen. It was an honor for me to run into Chief Brunacini at all kinds of events and he always asked how I was doing. He would listen. Mind you, this is Chief Brunacini, one of the most famous fire chiefs in America, listening and talking with a volunteer chief from German Township, Indiana. He remembered my name. He was curious about my challenges.

Don’t judge others by their past. Look at where they are right now and help them look toward the future. We all have a history. Some of our history is before cell phone cameras, and most of us are very happy about that. People do change and grow. Stand by and support them as they move toward their future.

Treat others with kindness. Kindness is one of the greatest gifts one can give and receive. Don’t treat others with kindness simply because you like them. Treat people with kindness because you are a kind person, even the people who drive you crazy. A person who shows kindness does not do so with an expectation of receiving something in return.

Prop others up. No matter how great you think you might be don’t try to make others look small. When you belittle others, you lose your power.

Offer support and love. We all have our battles. Firefighters especially have significant battles because our job requires us to see and experience trauma. We also have a past, and in many cases, we are still dealing with those events. It requires significant personal investment of time and energy to overcome our mental battles. Treat everyone you meet with dignity.

Never look down on others. Don’t look down unless it’s in the process of helping them up. Life is complicated. Help people who need your help.

Be mindful of your influence. We meet and interact every day with people who have a role in our lives. Some of those will help you grow. Some will hurt you. Some will inspire you to be better. You are an influence in their life as well so treat them with significance.

You cant go wrong with these actions. Being kind to others sets the positive example for successful leadership. Treat others the way you want to be treated and it will be returned many times.

Remember, you can’t change others’ behavior, but you can change yours and set a positive example for how others should act.

Chief John M. Buckman III served 35 years as fire chief for the German Township (Indiana) Volunteer Fire Department, and 15 years as director of the fire and public safety academy for the Indiana State Fire Marshal Office. He is the Director of Government and Regional Outreach for Buckman is a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and a co-founder of the IAFC Volunteer and Combination Officers Section. In 1996, Fire Chief Magazine named Buckman Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year. Buckman is an accomplished photographer, a co-author of the Lesson Learned from Fire-Rescue Leaders, and the editor of the Chief Officers Desk Reference. He is also the owner of Wildfire Productions. Buckman is a member of the Fire Chief/FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board. Connect with Chief Buckman on LinkedIn or via email.

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