Shaping the Future; “Creating Leaders in our Youth” Part I

11-19-2008 7-08-09 PM

As we quickly approach a time when much of the fire service leadership will be retiring we are destine to face the loss of great leadership in the fire service. This could prove to be a tragedy for our profession or we can make it a positive bench mark. A lot is going to depend upon several generations working closely together. That is the baby boomers and the generation Y and X coming together and realizing that the future belongs to those who prepare.

For years I would see the slogan, “The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare For It”, posted on the training class room wall of the Henderson North Carolina Fire Department. Chief Danny Wilkerson several times over used to say these same words to many of the young firefighters and officers that walked into that setting. As an instructor and a part-time member of that department it always struck me as an encouragement to continue to push to make a difference. Often times I personally struggled with just what that slogan really was saying. Well, for the first time as I write this article it has become crystal clear. The entire slogan was driven home with just one email blast from a great fire service colleague…Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder with a recent secret list publication. Below is a small component of what was contained in that blast I would like to share: “Sometimes….not everyone goes home. In the discussions, one of the young firefighters who was involved with the rescue told me that he now HATED the term “everyone goes home” because, obviously, Kevin did not. It made me start to think. Was the slogan a problem?

It has nothing to do with a slogan. The slogan “Everyone Goes Home” is an attitude…an attitude within a fire department that we’ll do all we can to try and bring all of our firefighters home. It was and still is an attitude. Some of the younger firefighters understandably, just didn’t get it at the time.

-It means that if we don’t drive like idiots, we’ll probably make it home.

-It means if we follow standards such as NFPA 1403, firefighter trainees will probably make it home.

-It means if we put our seat belts on and we collide on the way to a fire, we’ll probably make it home.

-It means if we weigh 100 lbs too much, and we eat more salads, we’ll probably make it home.

-It means that if it is obvious the building will collapse and we stay out of the way, we’ll probably make it home.

-It means if we have the right amount of trained staffing and good bosses at a fire, we’ll probably make it home.

…..and it means that if we drill and train on the stuff we need to do regularly, such as the ability to quickly get water on the fire, we’ll probably make it home.”

The above excerpt really drives me to focus on this blog’s topic “Shaping the Future”. We as leaders today will face the end of our careers. Many of my mentors are at that point currently. However, the leadership lessons they can still share are countless. Thank God, that these folks took an interest in us the leaders of the current fire service when we were youthful firefighters. As I look over the fire service today and especially after spending time at the Congressional Fire Service Institute recently, I can see that our fields are full of ripe future leaders just waiting to be harvested. Consequently we often scorn at the work ethic or analytical decision making that these individuals use as they make critical decisions.

I can see clearly where my first mentors Jerry Green and Rick Rice, both officers with the department I began my fire service career with in Mullens, West Virginia, could see a ripening prospect as they made extra efforts to shape the future through shaping me for the future. As I see it, the old practice of using our youth to accomplish our work is the base preparation needed to make them tomorrow’s leader. So officer’s are you Shaping the Fire Service’s Future?

Chief Doug Cline

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