There. I’d like it to be known that the headline of this article was pretty hard to write. The fire service, by it’s very nature, is full of big guys with even bigger egos – some of it justifiably, most of it not. I’ve routinely thought that I was in the “justified” group when it came to my “fire ego”. I read more than anyone else I know, I’m always thinking up new ways to train, and then going to do it. I run a damn BLOG on the INTERNET.
I’m what I’ve heard referred to as a 4-10. That’s someone with 4 years on the job who acts like he’s been here 10. And damnit if it doesn’t hurt to say that. The (not)shocking truth is, critical introspection and self study is amazingly important in the fire service. Sometimes we just get too big for our moustaches, and I finally realized that I have.
I’ve been in this weird position for the past year or so where I felt like I figured out what I DON’T know, but was comfortable enough in the fact that what I DO know made me somehow immune from certain things, with one example I’ll dig into specifically.
We were training at a class A burn building – basically a concrete structure with big barrels full of hay and wood that get set on fire, then everyone runs in and puts it out. There are of course dummies hidden in the structure for the search team to grab, and the occasional “MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY” that comes across the radio when an instructor grabs a student and tells them to hit their pass then play dead. I’m sure some of you can see where this is going, and there’s a chance that it might wind up segueing into another, yet related article where I attempt to justify my complacency, but we’ll see.
For the first few evolutions, I had been the hose captain, trying to manage to get some wet behind the ear’s firefighters to get the job done, which is very similar to herding cats at some points. One of my firefighters tended to either ignore my orders or just absolutely refuse to do something then go off and do his own thing. As aggravating as it was, I didn’t have much control over the situation (which brings us to the “I’m a bad leader” part of the story.)
So after dealing with this guy most of the day, I finally turned the reigns over to him and grabbed a hose, waiting on orders. First order of the day – RIT assignment. Cool, gotcha. Oh wait, he didn’t tell us to grab tools or anything and now we’re all sitting over here by the door doing nothing. Did I do the right thing and say “Hey, we need tools!”? No. I was too wrapped up in the fact that I couldn’t get him to listen to me earlier in the day that I was going to let him flop on his own with no help from me to “see how it feels”. I’m apparently really vindictive at times. Of course, after the evolution was complete, it turned into a complete shitstorm focused mainly on the RIT team and our inability to really do anything at all besides stand outside and play grabass. But hey, I wasn’t the leader, no sweat off my back boss. Just following orders. I was quickly pulled into the instructors office for a pretty good ass-chewing about letting my team fail so miserably. I had justifications, reasons, excuses, etc etc for DAYS about how it wasn’t my fault even though I was by far the most experienced FF on the team. ”Just showing him what it feels like when your team doesn’t come through and doesn’t follow orders.” ”It’s just hay in some barrels in a room that we know like the back of our hand that’s filled with instructors. NOTHING COULD GO WRONG. I HAVE A HARD TIME TAKING THIS SERIOUSLY BECAUSE IT’S SO UNREALISTIC.”
Holy shit. Did those things actually come out of my mouth? Did I really just justify why I let my team fail by using spite as a reason? Did I really just say that and IDLH atmosphere complete with fire was SAFE and UNREALISTIC?
The shameful truth is, I did. If I could go back and shove those words in my mouth, never to speak again, I absolutely would.
I LET MY TEAM FAIL ON PURPOSE TO PROVE A POINT
As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m beyond disgusted with myself. I know better than to ever do ANY of that. It’s shocking that when your brain turns off and your ego turns on, you sometimes turn into a complete idiot who forgets about everything the brotherhood stands for. I mean, sure, some hay in a barrel is no where close to a real structure fire. That’s an actual fact. But it doesn’t change anything. I’ve always been about giving 100% in training and studying in order to make myself a better firefighter, but it caught up with me and I had a 12-year-old temper tantrum melt down that could have possibly gotten someone injured.
I’m changing this. I’m going to do my damnedest to make sure that I never let myself get to this position ever again. It’s unacceptable in every way possible. It wasn’t the ass-chewing that made me open my eyes, it was the coming home and having to lie to myself about reasons why things happened that made me feel disgusted about my actions.
And here’s my final thought on the whole situation – it’s statistically impossible that I’m the only one out there who is going or has gone through this. In the words of the famous street poet Ice Cube, “Check yoself Befo You Wreck Yoself.” Are you letting your ego or emotions get in the way of being 100% all the time? If so, it might be time to sit down and re-evaluate a little.
So what’s next for me? Leadership classes. I need to learn how to lead. I need to re-learn how to be part of a team, no matter what the experience level is. I need to bring myself back down about 100 notches. I’m not the badass that I’d love to believe I am. I am mediocre. But I refuse to stay like this, and I think that last point is key to becoming a truly great firefighter.
And this was the hardest post that I have ever written (there’s that ego again.)