I started thinking about this topic a couple weeks ago. I was attending an off duty training, and I bumped into my partner who rides the back step on the Truck with me. After an hour or so the speaker was done, and I was left to talk shop with the rest of the students. I ended up having a conversation with my partner that has had me thinking over the past couple weeks. This Firefighters name is Ben and he’s been the junior guy on the truck for the last two years. He and I have spent a great deal of time over the past two years training together and making sure that we are both up to speed. He’s been a great addition to our company and I value his opinion, even when it differs from mine. He asked me a simple question that turned into the topic of conversation for the evening. “When are you going to take the Lt’s test?” he asked. Now to give you a little background on me, I’ve been in the fire service for the last 13 years. 11 years career with a couple as a volley. I’ve spent the last 9 and ½ years working for the department I’m currently employed with riding backwards as a firefighter. I responded “when I’m ready”, which is the easiest way to say, “not yet”. I followed up by saying that I feel like I am in the right position, at least at this time. He argued that I needed to promote to start making a bigger impact in our organization. He thinks that as a firefighter, you have little say-so, no pull, and no authority to make positive change. I say you can make a difference regardless of your rank. I see two ways of making positive change. Improve the culture, and improve your operations.
Cultural change is difficult because it takes time and constant effort. At the same time it’s pretty simple. As Mark VonAppen says in his BIG 4, do your job, treat people right, give all out effort, have an all in attitude. Actions speak louder than words, be the partner that you wish you had, set the example. You don’t have to wear bugles to be a positive example for others to emulate. This type of change is slow going, you can’t change the culture of your organization over night, but start today, your numbers will grow and you’ll look back years down the road and see that you’ve had a positive impact on the culture of your fire department.
Operational change is aimed directly at specific operational deficiencies. Do you need new nozzles, ladders, or bunker gear? Do your research, write up a proposal and submit it through the proper channels. Would like to add material to your officer development program, or make changes to your high-rise policy? Do the leg work, get input from others, start the conversation and start making changes happen.
Understand that making change isn’t easy. It takes hard work, dedication, and a lot of the time it takes help from your peers and superiors. But the beginning of that change can start anywhere, from the back step on up. Lets take a lesson from other firefighters who may not have rank in their organizations, but they’ve got respect. Ryan Royal, Bryan Lynch, Aaron Fields, and others have managed to make huge changes to the culture and operations of their fire departments without bugles on their collar. I challenge you, regardless of your rank, stop making excuses and start making changes.