Lead from the back

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The idea stemming from the fact that it is possible to make change from the backstep of a truck; that you do not need bugles on your collar to make significant change in an organization but we seem confused on how exactly to do it.

“Leader” is not a word used to describe someone who forces things on other people. That is actually a tyrant.  A leader is someone who has been honest, often brutally so, with themselves to find their shortcomings and their own pitfalls.  They are someone who does not cast stones at others, but works daily to improve themselves and then, by extension helps the people around them, creating buy in to their cause by showing true care and passion.  We all know that a test does not make a leader, they’re often quite apparent before ever even sitting for a promotional exam. They’re the ones who go out of their way to mentor and help the new guy without any or much thought about what that means for them, they’re the ones you find reading or listening to self-development material and, more than likely, those who are invested in their own health and fitness.

Many of us in the fire service pay for our own continuing education to an extent. Maybe your department can afford to send you to some classes, but when it really comes down to it if there’s a training event or conference coming to town that you want to go to, you know good and well that you’ll pay for it out of your own pocket.  The return trip home is what gets us all confused and jammed up though.

When we get home from this class with a new trick or technique we can’t wait to get back to work and show our crew what we learned! More often than not the first time we try, we end up coming home from that first shift back flabbergasted, disheartened and bruised when the senior guy looks at our new hose load, calls it some names because the other one has never not worked for them and goes inside, taking the rest of the crew with them. We may wonder why so-and-so has the authority, what made the idea so bad? You were sold the second you saw it! Was it a bad day to bring something like this up? What’s the deal?

You may end up asking yourself so many questions or spin your wheels so many times that the whole thing gets dropped entirely.  But you still go to conferences and training events, only with a different, more jaded outlook each time until you’re sitting there listening to a legend of the fire service give a lecture all the while thinking, “this is great, but I’m just a firefighter. There’s no way I can bring any of this stuff back to my department, after all… I’ve tried before! Those guys just won’t listen!”

First off, as Curt Isakson said, “no one is ‘just’ a firefighter” you’re an important part of the wheel that makes up the fire service, department you work for and rig you ride.  At my department we MUST have an officer, driver, and at least one firefighter riding in the back which makes the firefighters job just as important as those other two, it’s a different job not a “lesser” one.

Now let’s take a step back and think about the point at hand.  Is it really an unwillingness to change and learn on the part of your crew, or is it you? Are you unwilling to change your methods of delivery to create that buy-in that you need from your officer or other members of the crew to get them to try something new?  Are you unwilling to learn from your past failures and update your delivery methods? Firefighters are a resilient, hard-headed group, to be sure, but are probably willing to at least try that new hose load in the back of the station if you turn the tables around, become critical of yourself and what you are doing and try to first work on what becomes the more blatant problem the more you reflect.

We ourselves are the source of our own heartaches, it’s just a hard pill to swallow because it’s much easier to find fault in someone else and blame them for whatever is, or isn’t, going on.  So often when we hit a roadblock it becomes a detriment (source of pain) rather than an obstacle to be overcome. This is when we truly learn to lead. Are you willing to go the hard route and examine yourself to find what works better for the next time? Are you willing to put in the effort to sell your next idea better than you did the casualty that just flopped on the bay floor?  Can you examine yourself and find where you went wrong? Was it what you said, or how you said it? Is there possibly some emotional attachment to the object or tactic in question that your quick presentation completely disregarded?

You want to lead? That’s great, truly it is, you just must start with yourself. Get out of your own comfort zone and grow your mind, body and spirit.  After all, that’s exactly what you’re asking others to do. Then, and only then show others the way when you’re asked how you’re doing it. Forcing your way (or trying to) will only lead to resentment from those you wish to affect by the change you’re attempting to bring to your corner of the world.


Chase Morgan is a firefighter for the city of Conroe Texas and has worked there since January of 2012. He was promoted to Engine Operator in January of 2018 and is also currently the president of the Iron Brotherhood F.O.O.L.S. in Montgomery County, TX.

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