Leadership

The Highly Qualified Fireman*

You must be constantly evolving

Your attitude defines who you are. (Unsplash, Thomas Park)

By Hannah Elliott

“Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

While listening to Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL officer, on his Podcast #174, I was struck by the conciseness of what the Commandant’s Guidance describes. It is a fitness report used by the United States Marine Corps as the primary tool for selecting personnel for assignments or promotions based on standards of greatness. After looking it up and reading it for myself, I decided to take only the absolute highest score from each category and transcribe it into an easy-to-read article applicable to the fire service. If in the past you have lacked the ability to detach and accurately assess your own actions and character, I hope this will provide foreseeability into your humanity and utter failure to achieve your greatest potential, like it did for me.

Let’s begin by asking this simple question: Are you striving to be the best that you can be? Unfortunately, there are some who will remain unmotivated, fooled, or perhaps comforted in their own mediocrity, and that is a reality we must contend with. Then there are others who are willing to improve themselves but lack the self-awareness, discipline, and courage to implement change. Last is a far less common group of individuals who care about the results of their thoughts and actions and are constantly evolving as new pieces of information are discovered.  Ideally, these people also want to help others rise beyond their self-imposed limitations and bring their crew, firehouse, and department to a higher standard of operability. The greatest difficulty appears to be a lack of clearly defined expectations, and that is the breeding ground for complacency.

“Nothing reflects the failure to win greater than a clearly stated goal.”
– Hannah Elliott

Mission Accomplishment

The first segment describes how the most qualified are committed to the mission above personal reward and far surpass others’ expectations, recognizing and exploiting new resources while creating opportunities. They are emulated and sought after as experts with influence beyond their own crew, and their impact is significant. These leaders translate skills into actions and take broad-based education, combine it with experience, and use it to be forward thinkers, immeasurably impacting the mission. Furthermore, they are peerless teachers, selflessly imparting expertise to subordinates, peers, and seniors.

Qualities of the Individual

Judgement of character is used to further differentiate between the qualified, the professionals who form the majority, and the highly qualified firemen. Courage, effectiveness under stress, and initiative are just a few attributes that should be sought after. Courage is defined in the Commandant’s Guidance as, “Moral or physical strength to overcome danger, fear, difficulty, or anxiety. Personal acceptance of responsibility and accountability, placing conscience over competing interests regardless of consequences. Conscious, overriding decision to risk bodily harm or death to accomplish the mission or save others. The will to persevere despite uncertainty.”

“The Will to Persevere Despite Uncertainty”

The best firemen have uncommon bravery and a seldom-matched presence of mind under the most demanding of circumstances; they are highly motivated and take decisive, effective action in the face of dilemmas or life-threatening danger. 

Leadership

This is about the inseparable relationship between leader and led and the application of principles to inspire and motivate members to maximize their potential. Superb individuals promote creativity and energy among their crew by striking the ideal balance between direction and delegation. They give cause for others to willingly follow commands, building loyalty and trust that enables others to overcome their perceived limitations. It begins and ends with leadership of oneself, which fosters the greatest level of discipline and morale among the crew, ensuring mission success. 

Setting the Example

There must be a commitment to train, educate, and challenge every one of the people on your crew regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or ethnic background. It’s knowing how to create an atmosphere that tolerates mistakes while learning but also not accepting a minimal performance. These leaders are widely recognized, and any fireman would desire to serve under their instruction because they know they will grow personally and professionally. Their exemplary conduct, behavior, and actions are tone setting, with remarkable dedication to improving self and others as well as the esprit de corps of the crew. 

Be Involved with Your Crew

A true leader has a genuine interest in the well-being of the firemen who work under their command and are inherently concerned with family readiness. This person noticeably enhances crew effectiveness by providing the best support available and builds a strong family atmosphere through clear and open communication. Impressively, equal importance is given to listening, speaking, writing, and critical reading skills. Such leaders provide simple solutions to complex problems in a format that is easily understood by everyone. Questions are encouraged, as well as a venturing of opinions and concerns. They possess highly developed verbal communications that assist in composing written documents of the highest quality. Combining presence and skills, they engender confidence and the ability to achieve understanding irrespective of the setting, situation, or size of the group addressed.  Beyond a doubt, they have an intuitive sense of when and how to listen.

Expand the Boundaries of Your Mind

Moreover, leadership demands a commitment to intellectual growth. Those who desire to help others must work hard to increase the breadth and depth of their knowledge through professional resources and a personal reading program. These kinds of people participate in group discussions, including those of an opposing mindset, so that attention may be brought to a deficit in reasoning or application and be challenged with different perspectives. They will make time for study and introduce new and creative approaches to problems within the service and engage in a broad spectrum of forums and dialogues to enhance mental acuity.

Situational Awareness

Contributing elements to making decisions include judgment and decisiveness. A balance must be found between the most favorable solution for any given circumstance and one that is acceptable and workable. A leader also foresees unexpected problems and arrives at well-timed decisions despite uncertainty and friction. Supremely confident, this fireman finds equity in the desire for perfect knowledge and greater tempo. In addition, the discretionary aspect of judgment comes from someone who draws on his core values and comprehends the consequences of possible courses of action, consistently building the credence of his superiors.

Understand that there is every reason to aspire to become the best you can be in your trade. Your attitude defines who you are; you must also understand your moral and ethical code, or you will lose sight of the bigger picture. Don’t be that fireman who has forgotten why he is in the firehouse; be highly qualified and continue striving for excellence.

Hannah Elliott is a career fireman from Missouri.

*  Author’s Note: I choose the traditional term “Fireman” in both my speech and my writing because I believe there are greater battles to be fought than changing an industry’s name for the sake of inclusivity. To know more about this topic, I recommend reading “I am the Problem” by Lex Shady (https://theshadyfirefighter.com/2019/12/12/i-am-the-problem/).