Are you planting trees, or feeling the pull of gravity?



When is the best time to plant a tree?  Twenty years ago. When is the second best time to plant a tree? Now!

– Proverb

I know where I need to be and what I should be doing, but the motivation, sometimes, is not here.  The work to be done is daunting and includes the not so fun stuff. Holding people accountable, making a decision that is not popular and the rare occasion in which I realize I am wrong and need to regroup (lol).

How do I get the tree planted today? One step at a time. Movement overcomes the pull of   gravity from the tasks. Like Nike says, “Just Do It”!

My writing has fallen off (gravity), my exercise has all but ceased (gravity), but today is the day to plant the tree. Today is the day I find my flow of movement.

“Someone sits in the shade of a tree today, because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”


My question today is; Are you planting trees or are you just sitting in the shade? What are you doing?


Stop Talking Start Communicating

Stop Talking Start Communicating

Please check out Dr. Tumlin’s book. There is no better advice in life or business than this book. Should be a mandatory read.

Lessons in leadership from the Bottom

True “leadership” occurs at all levels of an organization. The old saying, “if you don’t like it, change it” in someway espouses that everyone has the ability to create change. This is true if they are also given the authority to carry through with the mission. Change is, at it’s very foundation, the definition of leadership. Leadership can be defined many ways, but moving from one position to another is a very clear explanation.


Rookie firefighter comes to work and is expected to learn the district. After looking over the map book, the rookie realizes the book is poorly organized and difficult to learn. Knowing there were better map books in the industry, the rookie requested a meeting with the Chief to see if he could convince him to change the book. The Chief met with the rookie and listened to the complaint of how inefficient the map book was and that there were better ones we could emulate to improve our process. The Chief, being a teacher of leadership, told the rookie to come back with an example and then he would evaluate it. The rookie, feeling somewhat validated but mostly challenged, set out to improve on the map book. After a week, the new proposal for a map book was presented to the Chief with some confidence and enthusiasm that the change would happen. Result; the Chief liked it enough to tell the rookie to develop, distribute and train everyone on the new map book.

The example was a classic story of leadership from both ends of the organization. The Chief was teaching and actually leading the change by engaging a rookie who exhibited enthusiasm for driving the change. The rookie realized there was something wrong in the system and brought it to the attention to the Chief. The responsibility assigned to the rookie  was given with the authority to create change.

Lesson learned;

change can occur from every position in an organization and when leadership emerges it should be fostered and supported with authority to carryout the initiative.

How are we doing?

passes analysis chart

It’s that time of year when we all look back and recount how we did over the past 365 days. I hope every department is reviewing the benchmarks they set for themselves last year and measuring their successes. More importantly what can be improved over the next year.
There is nothing worse than having an incredibly successful year of progress and thinking that you have found the secret recipe of operating. We can never sit idle in the belief that we’re there. Our profession is one that will never reach a pinnacle or state of dominance in the market. We must strive for a balance of safe communities and the flexibility to grow with community’s ability to fund the operation.
The fire service is steeped in a traditional service model that is struggling in today’s economy. How can we continue to safely deliver our service with less ? If your reading this post, today is your lucky day. I will give you the secret to sustaining your service with less….

Think outside of the box.

How we’ve always done it, will not survive in a shrinking budget. The traditional model is based on growth to maintain whatever level your service is at.  I would venture a guess that whatever your service delivery is today, it can use some improving.

Step 1; Analyze your service delivery.

  • Does your delivery times match acceptable levels to be effective? (NFPA 1710/20)
  • Are you able to muster the needed resources to be effective? (NFPA 1710/20)
  • Are your prevention measures adequate to address target potentials and new growth?
  • How successful were your responses over the last year?
  • How many education contacts did you make last year? (Schools, Apartments, Elderly, other targets)
  • Can you show a direct correlation between your efforts and a reduction of incidents?

Step 2; Adjust operations to meet an improvement goal for next year.

  • Targeted training to better an area of needed improvement.
  • Strategically position resources to better serve actual service demands.
  • Enlist outside resources to assist with goal attainment.
  • Explore models of success in other agencies.
  • Re-direct budget funding towards effect programs.
Step 3; Repeat.

These steps are familiar or should be. It is what every fire service leader has been taught for years. The difference that I’m writing about, is to do these steps with the dynamics of changing and moving resources that you have. If you keep good records, you should have some predictability in service demands and what causes them. (In other word, where are the calls, what are they and what is causing them). Address these points, make them go away, or at least decrease.

An example of my ranting; a neighboring department had a high demand for EMS in their service area. Unable to garner more staff, they created “squads” that were large EMS units (4-door) that carried firefighting gear as well. These squads were put into service in the areas of need without drawing more manning into the budget. The data showed that the EMS service demands did not necessarily coincide with fire demands. No brainer, use EMS units when needed and then shift those units to fire units when needed. I know the arguments, and I’ll debate their thin. We have to address the needs, not the “what ifs.”  Remember, outside the box, (Tradition vs. Progress)

This is not the only method to address service efficiency. Every area of our business needs to be evaluated and then brainstormed for better ways of doing it. Start with looking back over the past year and discussing how to do it better next year. And then be open to do things differently.

Is it our Traditions or our Culture?

Why is it we laugh about the phrase “100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress”?  Maybe because it’s hard to rationalize that we are part of that tradition that is holding back progress.  It’s easier to laugh it off than it is to take action and stand up against the old ways.We know there are better ways to do business, but we can’t be run like a business,right? Or can we?

Our proud culture builds strong dragon slayers from day one. These warriors of the flame are fairly polarized about their mission in life.  “Fight Fire and Save Lives” that’s what they do.  We created them and when we try to get them outside the box they resist.  How can we get any better at our craft than those that came before us if we embrace our traditions so tightly that we can’t imagine a world without them?

Our role cannot define our purpose

If you ask one hundred firefighters what it is they do, and you’ll get many different responses.  I would guess few would actually come close to an accurate purpose of their job. This confusion starts early in our career. The solution would be to start re-imaging what it is firefighters really do. Teach cadets that our role may be to slay fire and rappel from tall buildings but our purpose is to take care of each 911 call like they’re our family. The other side of our role, is the acknowledgement that we serve many levels of emergencies that are defined by the caller, not us. Understanding our role and how it allows us to accomplish our purpose will create a culture that will most likely differ from today’s.

I am very proud of my profession and it’s traditions. My department embraces the ceremonial traditions with pomp and circumstance. My department is entrenched in some of the old ways, but we are slowly realizing that the world we live in is passing our profession up with technology, business acumen, creativity and leadership that cares.  I urge you to not only learn the ways of the business world that is flying by at a dizzying pace, but to employ some of the practices.  Even if they don’t fit into our traditions.

Robert I.

Photo Credit; East Austin # 4 Firefighter Ed Petersen