First off I need to thank Brandon for reminding me of this. This is going to sound bad, but stick it out.
When recently asked how a firefighter can make changes in a fire department I gave a list of ways firefighters have lead changes in my department, and I’ll write about that in the future. But the most important way is to make sure the change isn’t just for you. The change cannot be about you, it has to be about the department or the members. Don’t make changes to chase fame, do it to make your company or department famous. Or just to leave it better than you found it.
You are a single link in a big pile of chain. You are not special. If that chain is put to work are you the link that will break? I think if firefighters thought of this more there would be less issues. This commencement speech was given in 2012 and it should be considered the gold standard for commencement speeches. Spend 12 minutes and watch or listen.
Wellesley High School Graduation 2012
If improving your company or department is your goal improve yourself first. Set that new standard. Be that new standard. Then start the grind, the long days, weeks, months, years of maintaining that standard until it catches on or until it is proven effective or valuable. Remember it has to be, by default, above and beyond the minimum required by your department yet somehow still within the rules. You must achieve the standards your department wants or anything you are trying to do will be lost. If you cannot do the job you are trying to change you will be considered inept or incompetent and rightfully so.
Maybe you want stronger leadership. When firefighters talk about weak leadership my first question is always “are you promotable and what have you done to get promoted?”. Not everyone should be an officer, and it’s not required to effect change, but if you are complaining about your leadership and you think you have done all you can at your level its time to see the problem from the inside.
Another thought on leadership is that we are the custodians of our positions. Some officers think that seat, the office, the bugle on their collar was invented just for them. Sorry. You are just another officer, not special. Some departments do a poor job of honoring their history and I feel that may play a role in the attitudes some officers have towards their positions. It’s an honor to be in an officer position on a line company, more so than being a firefighter in my mind. Because an officer sets the tone for their work group. Poor leaders have poor firefighters and underperforming companies,] with poor reputations. Because of the rich history in my department its easy for me to understand how small I am in the big picture. My position has been around for 150 years. I’m a single link in a very, very long chain. The position was here long before me and even if staffing and company changes come to my department my post will remain long after me. This is not “My” house, group or company, this is the company’s position and I am temporarily filling it. I need to leave it in the same or better condition as I found it when I leave.
As a link in the chain I wonder every shift if I am the weak link in the chain. If the chain was drawn and tested which link would fail? Which link is not up to the standard all the rest have been tested to? Each link has to be able to stand alone but that’s where the individuality ends and the ability to blend in unnoticed with the rest begins.
Your company does not “need” you. If you transfer, get promoted, quit, die, or get demoted another will take your place without missing a beat. You are not special, you have the honor of temporarily influencing some department members, making a difference in your department and community. You are keeping the seat warm for the next officer. If you cannot live up, leave. This isn’t for everyone. I hope I am honoring the position and influencing positive change as needed.