But It Should Have Been Better

It could have been much worse

But it should have been better

-Five Finger Death Punch

There’s a disturbing trend in the fire service today.

“It would have burned down anyway, it’s not like there was anything to save.”

“It’s okay you missed the tube.  The guy was dead anyway.”

“Don’t worry about it, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.”

It’s called relative morality.

It’s when we excuse bad things because they’re not as bad as worse things.Read More »

Let Us Be Proud of Our Patch

In leadership, the easiest way to plummet morale and destroy efficiency is to consistently interfere at the operational level.  If you don’t give some latitude for mistakes you’ll just create kinks in the line instead of allowing water to the nozzle.  -LEAD IT

The above quote illustrates a common mistake made by company and chief level officers worldwide.

The bottom line is this:  a thing can only be owned by one entity at a time.

If your supervisor insists that the things that should belong to you instead belong to him, you’ll give up.

If you’re not allowed to make decisions about where your water goes once you pull the line, you don’t own that line.  If you’re not allowed to decide what the treatment plan is for your patient, then you don’t own the patient.  If you’re not allowed to decide what the topic of the training today is, then you don’t own the training.  If you’re not allowed to decide how you manage and lead your company/station/shift, you don’t own it.

When you don’t own it, you don’t care about it.Read More »

Hubris: A Dangerous Overconfidence

tempImageForSaveWe’ve all experienced two seasons in our careers.

The first, where we’re nailing everything, our judgment is good, our decisions sound, diagnoses accurate, leadership on point.

The second, where you feel doubtful, unsure of your abilities, scared of making mistakes, feeling like you’d rather sink into the background.

Typically, there is a bridge that gets us from the first to the second, one we don’t really talk about, and in many cases even glorify in the fire service.


In ancient Greek context, it literally means “challenging the Gods”.  It is associated with foolish pride and dangerous overconfidence.Read More »

100/100 Rule

100100From time to time, I will be in conversation with a company officer, and I’ll hear something like: “This employee I have just isn’t making it.   He won’t put in the effort.  He’s got a bad attitude.”

Naturally, I ask them this question:

“Is it possible that they need something from you that they’re not getting?”

Which is typically met with a mix of sputtering, wide eyes, and a rush to defend their unassailable leadership skills.  Often, this includes informing me that I simply don’t understand the apparently mysterious inner workings and behind-the-scenes magic of management.

There is a simple principle called the 100/100 rule, which has been around for a long time.  The idea is simple:

In any relationship that is not functioning well, the responsibility for this dysfunction lies 100% with you, and 100% with the other party, because either of you can fix it.

This isn’t that terribly hard to understand.  Most nod their heads, murmur “uh-huh” and proceed to repeat that the problem in this situation is that the other party isn’t bringing their 100%.

Many officers are quick to point out that their subordinates aren’t bringing their best, and they then use this as an excuse not to do their job.

We all love to saddle others with the responsibility for failure, but we’re terrified to examine our own participation in their lack of success.Read More »

Don’t Call Me a Hero


There is an abundance of memes, stories, poems, placards, and t-shirts that deify the firefighter as a hero.

I don’t like it.

Many won’t like it, but I liken our work to that of the trash collector (whom I profoundly respect.)

If every time a trash collector turned onto a street lined with full trash cans, he lost his mind with excitement, we would consider him quite foolish.  Yet, do we not do this with structure fires?

If a trash collector climbed inside his compactor before he crushed the trash, just to prove he was brave and badass, we would call it idiotic, impractical showboating.  Yet, our culture still dives into high-risk environments when there is little tactical need.

And when a firefighter dies, we comfort ourselves with thoughts of their heroism and bravery.

If trash collectors were routinely getting killed doing their job, we would all say “This is unacceptable.  We MUST find a way to accomplish this job without killing people all the time.”

Why are we any different?

Because we’re “heroes”.

Read More »

Those Bugles Ought to Be Heavy 

Burn BuildingWhen you really think about it, the role of the company officer is a stupidly difficult, never-ending, generally thankless position.

At least, when it’s done well, it is.

You’re responsible for the mistakes of everyone who works for you, yet you defer praise to your team.

You can no longer truly be “one of the guys”.  You sacrificed that part of the camaraderie when you took the oath to keep them safe at all costs.

Your job is to enable them, to teach them, to help them, to remove any obstacles and take any bullets so that they can focus on their jobs.

You are duty bound to look out for the people in your care, emotionally, mentally, physically.  You must guide and help them in their work and their home lives as best you can.

You, more than anyone, must put the team before the individual, and the mission before the team.  You must make and live with hard decisions, on a scene or in the station.

Lately, I’ve noticed that most guys like the idea of having a bugle on their collar a lot more than they like the idea of actually doing this job.  They’re more committed to the inflated ego associated with promotion than they are to accepting the enormous responsibility of servitude that comes with leadership.

If the bugles don’t feel heavy, you don’t understand what they mean.

They See a Problem Solver

This is a poignant video, and an excellent reminder that, to a victim, the fire service has a single identity.  To them, there is no difference between me and the guy one district over.  They do not see patches, turnout or helmet colors, operational differences, district boundaries, or politics.

They have a problem, and they see a problem solver.  It would do us well to remember this.

Training As One from LACoFD TSS on Vimeo.

When Are Mistakes Okay?

Dublin FireThere are a lot of different types of Company Officers in this line of work, and there are a whole lot of factors that make each of them unique.

One of those factors is their ability to determine the acceptability of mistakes.

Mistakes happen.  To everyone.  We’ve all got our butt chewed at one time or another, sometimes when we deserved it, and probably other times when we didn’t.

If you’re a company officer, you probably have an intuitive sense of when a mistake is a big deal and when it isn’t.  But how do you explain that to your superior, or write it down in a report?

When we start quantifying criteria for acceptable error, we start to determine that there are four reasons that people make mistakes.

Ignorance, arrogance, complacency, and negligence.Read More »

People or Machine?


Occasionally, in the fire service, we have a tendency to think about staff as another resource that needs management.

“Oh, I need another Paramedic at that station.  Move him over there.”

“We need more engineers, send those two to school.”

In fact, staff has a tendency to think of themselves as objects with unlimited capacity.

“I can work another overtime shift if you need me.”

“I’ll do whatever the department needs me to do.”

The unstoppable, adapt-and-overcome attitude of the fire service is one of it’s greatest traits.

But it does get us in trouble sometimes.Read More »

Fire Doesn’t Fight


Sometimes, when talking shop, I start to hear a brother talking about the fire like it’s out to get us.  Like the fire wants us to be hurt or injured.  As though, when a building burns, the flames are maliciously planning the ways in which they can accomplish your demise.

While I appreciate the need to have a healthy respect for the inherent danger associated with any fire incident, I don’t really believe in characterizing the fire as a villain with malicious intent.

It isn’t.

Read More »