How did I get here?

The Path

As I was talking to a friend of mine the other night, I realized my experiences in life have brought me to where and who I am today. Ok, it sounds a little cliché, but as I was admiring the impressive career and resume of my friend, he asked how I got to where I am today. As I recounted my days in the fire service, I started to hear a story that didn’t sound so bad. Somewhat like Steve Jobs who stated he stitched his life experiences together to arrive at his pinnacle, I draw on many experiences that I had long forgotten. Ok maybe not Steve Jobs…  but the concept is the same.

Influence is about changing hearts, minds, and behavior to produce meaningful, sustainable results. (Influencer: The Power to Change Anything)

The people I have met along the way, the instructors, mentors, haters and mostly my friends, all direct my path in some way.  I have learned volumes from those whom which I admire as teachers or mentors (see earlier post; The Influence of My Dad.) The technical and academic knowledge and even emulation of character try to steal some charisma that they may have wielded.  I believe I can recount the lessons learned from those who either did not like me or vice versa. The haters are watched closely. If we glean more from our visible world than our audible, then these folks are both inspiration of what not to do or how not to do it. Lastly, our friendships in life make us happy and give us the belonging and acceptance we crave. Your friendships are also bestowed upon those who will cast influence on you. I never want to hurt those who I call a friend. I also do not want to be reserved with my thoughts or words around those who I trust enough to call friend. This is the big one. Trust will allow someone to tell you, “that’s wrong” or “what were you thinking” and not offend you because it is coming from a trusted source that cares.

Putting it all together, these experiences will shape your thoughts.  Your actions are another thing. Daniel Pink, best-selling author of Drive, explains that we are motivated in many ways, but nothing more powerful than these three factors;

 “1) autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives, 2) mastery, the desire to continually improve at something that matters, and 3) purpose, the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves.”

Our motivations coupled with our exposures will be the “who” we are.  How we employ our experiences, or learn from them, will result in our destination. If in fact our drive is pretty similar across all the who’s in who-ville, then we need to be very skilful with how the stitching of experiences is done. Follow the leaders that care for you. Be inspired by those that care enough to  be brutally honest with you. Learn from your negative experiences like they are valuable teaching moments in life. And then finally, think about the impression you are leaving on those around you in life and ponder, will it be stitched into shaping someone else’s life or just forgotten?

Parting Shot;

A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure. (Proverbs 16:9)

Knights Templar? Illuminati? or Common Sense?

Knights Templar

Fire service leadership seems like an elusive secret set of rules that only the select illuminati of the five bugle clan are privileged to.  The reality is that is nothing new or hidden in catacombs of a subterranean NFA library. In fact, fire service leadership is so obvious that we sometimes overlook it when it’s right in front of our face. I believe the problem lies in the absence of or less than paramount purpose of our job. Why do we do what we do? I challenge you to poll your department and see how consistent they are in the purpose of their job. We are confused with the overriding hero complex and our tradition of doing those things that most people would not, (considered heroics).

Tradition can be progress’s anchor

For a long time now, I have witnessed our profession do an enormous amount of work in those things that a majority of the public would gladly do, (help those around you). I have also witnessed those very few times that we go to extreme measures to help someone. I am always amazed at what we will be willing to sacrifice to help those in need (real or perceived). I have to ask, not to impugn the act, why are we performing those extreme acts? are we pursuing the hero complex that our tradition bares? We need to profess there is no honor in dying for a vacant building, or to retrieve a dead body.

Knights Templar motto; “Do your duty, come what may.” (Tradition = Anchor) We are smarter than this…..

Fire service leaders are in every level of the organization. Those that generate a following whether by position, knowledge, charisma or intimidation, must be in line with purpose. Chief officers need to be in accord on what the organization’s purpose is and then do the work to reinforce the mission.  Fire officers must recognize the informal leaders that are out of sync with the purpose or those that subscribe to something greater, (the calling) like our tradition to be heroes, and guide them back to the mission.

Leadership will emerge with knowledge and passion

Illuminati? Ok, leadership is written as a complex topic that includes the tenants of science and technology and a practice of our human social behaviors and basic human needs. Sounds like a secret, non-relatable cult, but really all we have to do is remember one thing, our purpose.  We do not have to be a scientist, or a doctor, just a firefighter who understands why we do what we do and then grow to support this mission. Leadership will emerge when you are knowledgable of the job and your care of those around you (brother and sister firefighters) is on the same level (passion) that you serve up helping the people calling 911.

Daniel Pink, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Drive, quotes Clare Boothe Luce, “what is your sentence” and Pink’s additional question. “was I better today than yesterday?” If there is a secret illuminati, the answers to these questions would be the  crown jewels of leadership.

S.T.A.N.’s the Story of Us

Where it all happens

After almost 30 years of sitting around the dinner table at the firehouse, I can attest to the greatest stories ever told, the stories that intricately bind the brotherhood of firefighters. About ten years ago, a fellow firefighter introduced me to STAN stories – those stories that inevitably start with someone around the table stating “Shit that ain’t nothin” (STAN) and then the weaving begins. It does not matter that your story was about catching a fat woman from the second floor of a burning building or pulling babies out of the jaws of death, someone will invariably have another story to compete with yours.

The term was passed on to me as a joke for a particular firefighter that couldn’t resist the opportunity to engage in STAN stories. This guy was infamously dubbed STAN as his nickname. I realized this phenomenon was something I had witnessed many times throughout my career. You can see it before the words are spoken, the gaze off to the ceiling, and the self-serving smile and then, STAN. Once it starts, it usually continues one after another, with amazement, laughter and sometimes, well, the stories break up.

The STANs are not about one-upping each other. Conversely they end up pulling each other closer together. All firefighters will eventually witness human suffering that most people

will never hear about, let alone experience. The most popular method they use to deal with the traumas associated with public safety work is to recount the story back at the station with their brother firefighters. This story telling is a cleansing purge of the emotional build up of trying to understand what happened. The secondary benefit of the stories is the cementing of bonds that only those that have been there would understand, the brotherhood. It really doesn’t matter that the STAN story be any better than the one before, it just matters that it is one that everyone at the table can relate with.

Over the years of recounting STANs, the stories get better and in a timeless manner continue to serve the primary purposes of purging and bonding. I continue to engage in STANs at the station. The stories never get old, both telling them and hearing them. It keeps me connected and maybe helps me keep my demons at bay, either way I really enjoy the camaraderie.

This article isn’t presented as a scientific testament (although we’ve all probably read the benefits of talking about “it”), but rather as an observation and urging for every firefighter to keep on telling the STANs.

I wrote this article several years ago and it ran on the “Friday Report” weekly communication of the Texas Fire Chief’s Association. I’m not sure everyone got it then, so I tell it again. As a fire service leader, after making sure your fit emotionally and physically, you are responsible for those most precious brothers/sisters around you. I’m hoping you take heed and foster the “brotherhood” in this aspect. Be the leader by letting them tell their stories and let them hear yours as well.

Photo Credit; Abilene Texas Fire Department Archive