Elite expectations: Firefighters should exhibit an ‘Olympic-level attitude’ every day

As Chief John Eversole once said, the public expects “brain-surgeon decathlon champions” to show up when they call 911


As the traditional parade of athletes and Olympic sports loom on the world stage, poised to begin their display of talent, I am reminded of the legacies and camaraderie of the fire service. Top-tier teams come together to display their skills on a world stage. This is just as true of the athletes gathering in Tokyo as it is of the elite international technical rescue teams from Israel and Mexico that converged on Surfside, Florida, to help with the search and rescue efforts last month. While the stakes and motivations are different, the esprit de corps and sense of teamwork are undeniably similar.

In the comparison of such “elite expectations,” a quote from the late-Chief John Eversole comes to mind: “Our department takes 1,120 calls every day. Do you know how many of the calls the public expects perfection on? 1,120. Nobody calls the fire department and says, ‘Send me two dumbass firemen in a pickup truck.’ In 3 minutes they want five brain-surgeon decathlon champions to come and solve all their problems.”

In principle, the same holds true for athletes competing in the Olympics. Not one person says, “Go ahead and send your minor league team to the Olympics.” The expectation is that the best of the best show up, ready to win.

Not one person says, “Go ahead and send your minor league team to the Olympics.” The expectation is that the best of the best show up, ready to win.
Not one person says, “Go ahead and send your minor league team to the Olympics.” The expectation is that the best of the best show up, ready to win. (Photo/Getty)

A higher standard

Guess what? It’s OK to have high expectations; in fact, I wish every one of our officers had Olympic-level expectations for every one of their firefighters, every single day. And this isn’t just about physical training. Every single one of us should strive to have an “Olympic attitude” on every call, every day. This includes a host of daily responsibilities – in addition to answering calls for assistance – that I expect every firefighter or EMS professional to take seriously:

  • Apparatus and equipment checks
  • House cleaning
  • Training (fire- and/or EMS-related)
  • Preplanning
  • Rest (yes, downtime for mental strength)

And there’s more! Let’s not forget being presentable, timely, professional, courteous, personable, sympathetic, empathetic, trustworthy, selfless, brave, loyal, conscientious, proud – you know what’s expected. The expectations of public trust go far beyond the traditional thoughts of background checks, arrest records and disciplinary history. Let’s detail some of these traits.

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Presentable and timely: Showing up in a uniform that doesn’t look like a cat just exploded in your car carries as much weight as being on time does. Grandma Jones calls 911 for a reason. Show up as fast as possible, and remember, timeliness can be relative, too. I came from an era when if you weren’t at work 1 hour early, you were late. Be “on time” in everything you do.

Professional, courteous and personable: Answer the call with the same attitude on a lift assist as a room-and-contents fire. The common courtesies of door-holding, saying please and thank you, standing up to talk to people, looking people in the eye, and probably most importantly, listening, are hallmarks of a professional who values humanity and respects the people they serve. That should be you.

Sympathetic and empathetic: As rough, tough and hardened as we tend to be, it’s OK to have feelings and shed a tear every once in a while. If you treat these incidents like it was you or your family, you’ll get this one. Sure, we’ve got to get the job done, but that doesn’t mean we have to be robots about it.

Trustworthy and selfless: For us, the evaluation of our trustworthiness only begins with your application and the results of your background check. Your continued capacity to be trusted and to instill the public trust is primarily – if not completely – in your hands. Being all-in and understanding none of “this” is about you is part and parcel to being a selfless public servant. It is the first step in building your trustworthiness.

Brave: Let’s just be clear from the beginning – bravery does NOT equal stupidity. It is important for firefighters to have the mental stability to face things they may be afraid of, and to do things outside of their normal comfort zone.

Quick hits

I could go on and on about this, but let’s rapid-fire some suggestions to demonstrate your capacity to be an Olympic-level firefighter:

  • Focus more on positivity, less on negativity
  • Focus on getting things done, less on stagnation
  • Focus more on learning, less on history
  • Focus more on being proactive, less reactive
  • Focus more on opportunities to learn, less on social media
  • Respect what others bring to the table, worry less about how you would have done it
  • Focus more on being the best you and the team can be, less on tearing others down
  • Focus more on what you have, less on what you don’t have
  • Have more face-to-face conversations, less back-stabbing
  • Focus more on doing things right, less on being right
  • Focus more on passion, less on emotion
  • Focus on team success, less on individual accolade or failure
  • OWN your decisions – good, bad, or indifferent

Go for the gold

I fully recognize the reality that none of us is perfect; frankly, if we all were, the public wouldn’t need us. With all of our imperfections, however, we are public safety servants, otherwise known as “brain-surgeon decathlon champions.” We should all strive for success and ultimately for perfection. We should always perform like we’re going for the gold.

It’s OK to have really high expectations for firefighters. Herculean? No, just human.

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