What Can Leaders Learn From Firefighters?

Last week, i got to spend some time with a group of firefighters on duty. It was a great experience to see these people, who are the same as you and I, giving everything to save a life and put out a fire.

I got to listen to the radio broadcasts between fire stations, the different requests sent from Dispatch, and to witness on the sheer number of rescues they had to attain to during the day.

As i was driving back home… all the small details started coming together and it just hit me — I would have loved to be a firefighter, but that’s not it — Everything we get to learn from Leadership and Management is all there, in that very small room, in the field with those people who put everything on the line while on duty.

So, how does leadership trace back to firefighters?

First thing first…

The Team Members Approach

I got to meet at first with the chief responsible of the station. A great person who is well respected and loved in his team. He took me on a tour and introduced me to the team. He introduced each member through his name, position, why each became a firefighter, and what is each’s best contribution to the team. Chief was very well aware of his members and seemed to take good care of them and their needs. That shows how much of a leader the chief is by knowing his team inside out.

You might be asking, “Why”? Simply because…

“If you want your team to accomplish great things, you must first show them that you truly care”

The Communication Approach

If you want to know what communication is.. then visit a fire station.

Image Credit: www.firedepartment.orgYou get to witness unlimited ways of communication, through verbal and nonverbal approaches.
First thing was a training session for new equipment they just installed on the truck. The great thing about the Chief was that he was merely a facilitator of the training session, getting to observe all members in action and how they are handling the new equipment. When i approached the Chief asking: “Why is it you are merely a facilitator and not leading the training?”.
He replied back: “In the field, i don’t have time to check on all members, each should be able to think on their feet, assess the situation and act as per the best possible approach… This way, i would be helping my team take decisions with the best outcome in mind”.

You might be asking, “Why”? Simply because…

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” — Timothy Gallwey

Another example was the communication link between stations and the teams themselves. It was astonishing to watch when dispatch requested from the station to take on a forest fire which have been spreading for an hour. As soon as dispatch gave the coordinates of the fire, i saw members of the team starting to load oxygen tanks onto the truck, other members coordinating through radio with other stations and cars to confirm who would be first on the blazing ground, while others were loading a reserve truck just in case requested and checking on all first aid kits ready. It was so amazing i can describe it with only two words “Organized Chaos”. Everything happened so fast that it didn’t take them more than 2 minutes, everyone was on board and on route to fight the fiery devil.
Communication was so punctual and specific, ordered and balanced, that everything went so smooth in the midst of the craziness from that forest fire;
Where was the Chief in all of this? talking to dispatch where he made it clear later on that he was confident in his team and their roles that they know what to do and how to think when called by dispatch, stating “They are well trained to Listen“.

Don’t ask “Why”. I`ll tell you… Simply because…

“The art of communication is the language of leadership” — James Humes

The Team Approach

It was a pleasure to watch the firefighters and the chief sit and chat when nothing is happening. It is really amazing the bond they have and the respect they hold for each other. It’s that time when you get a chance to look at a team, from another perspective, not as members, yet as one whole team and think… “What makes these people so close to each other?”
Well, Chief was kind enough to answer me this…
Image Credit: www.coeh.uci.edu“We have 1 Mission. We are all committed to saving lives, the most sacred thing on earth, from fires, storms, etc. We all work for that same mission, that 1 goal, where we feel alive after seeing a mother back with her child when saved from a blazing apartment, or helping a teenager from drowning down the river… You see, we have something we live by here, ‘All for One and One for All’, We always watch each others back, we always are careful on each other, and we always! always! want to come back victorious with the same number of members that left on that truck”.

This time, i`ll ask the “Why”… and i got my answer…

“Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader. They set out to make a difference. It’s never about the role it’s always about the goal” — L.Haisha

It is really amazing what i was able to learn in 1 day, what the business world was trying to teach me over the years through books, business jargons, and sophisticated strategies.

Sometimes, all it takes is to look around you for a cause that you believe in, and you might get to learn wonders from just spending that day fulfilling it…

One question comes to mind…
“What is that one cause you would like to spend a day getting to learn from it and practicing its outcome into your leadership style?”


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