Firehouse Magazine

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Instructor John Dixon

Passionate, Relevant, and Current Knowledge Sharing For Your Department

The Human Element in Firefighting


FIREHOUSE | Health & Safety Report | 2019


The human condition is often the most overlooked factor when examining fire service outcomes. At the street level, very little is discussed or understood of what makes us human. In taking a deeper look into our attitudes, behaviors, and culture, however, we can truly work at creating a positive environment for professional growth. The improvement of the human condition within the emergency services is relative to our specific paradigms. The Tampa Safety Summit in 2004 gathered many fire service stakeholders at various levels in their careers under one roof, in the same room, with one goal. After much deliberation, the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives were born and published industry-wide. While the context of each initiative is vital to understand, the one common factor that binds them together is the human element and our ABCs.


Our personal attitude is synonymous with our personal accountability. We must become better at accepting our roles within the organization as vital ones. The times of simply acting as a drone or a good foot soldier must come to an end. We must expect and demand the utmost in our people’s attitudes. A positive mindset can only be fostered by empowering others with positive surroundings such as access to quality training, formal education, and progressiveness. We are all in direct control of our attitudes, but we are also greatly influenced by the level of empowerment we receive from our leaders. The trickle-down effect of a positive culture will be a huge return on investment.


Our behaviors are a direct result of our attitudes. It is impossible to have positive outcomes with our behaviors if our mindset is not cultivated. This is where a divide within the fire service can be seen. The behaviors of the older generations of firefighters differ in many ways from the newer generations. For example, Crew Resource Management may be understood as a direct challenge of authority. While the younger generation has been indoctrinated to ask questions, the older generation understands this to be a lack of a willingness to comply, thus the appearance of entitlement is born.

Personal growth comes from our attitude, behaviors, and culture!


For some time now, modern fire service culture has been gravitating toward the organization itself rather than the citizens we are sworn to protect. We are trying to remain relevant to our mission of life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation all at the same time as we are fighting one another on how to provide that service. We are creating an entirely new culture of self above others. The 2015 National Safety Culture Change Initiative found that “The culture of unsafe practices may be so deeply ingrained that efforts to change are viewed as challenges to fundamental beliefs, while other unsafe practices are created by the culture of the fire and emergency service as a whole.” This new paradigm of self above others would suggest that our emotions are still in control of our behaviors, therefore furthering the argument that our culture shapes our actions. This is why it is imperative to take caution in how we shape the future of the fire service.


To understand change, we must examine the differences between incremental change and transformational change. Each type of change is a profoundly different experience. Incremental change is the result of rational planning with clearly defined goals. This change can usually be reversed if needed, which gives us the feeling of being in control. Incremental change involves using our knowledge and abilities. Deep change requires new ways of thinking and, most importantly, behaving. This change is generally irreversible and creates a situation in which we realize we don’t have the knowledge or ability. This requires that we lose control. How do each one of us understand and apply our actions?

The 16 Life Safety Initiatives provide a roadmap. How we choose to reach the destination is on us. The absolute constant in being human is that change is inevitable. Utilizing and implementing the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives in our decision-making matrix will provide clarity to our mission.

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The Human Condition in Firefighting

Human Condition

“The great dichotomy within today’s fire service is all about perceived culture. The improvement of our culture as a whole within the emergency services is relative to our specific paradigms” (Dixon, 2017, para. 1). Despite external influence from organizational culture, creating a positive environment for professional growth is largely contingent upon the motivation of the individual firefighter. While the attitude and behavior of the individual are often indicative of the social paradigm representative of the firefighter's immediate work environment, the firefighter must still maintain ownership and accountability of their own identity and development. Emotional intelligence, the hierarchy of needs, and choice theory play a large role in how a firefighter develops. The improvement of the human condition within the fire service is relative to firefighter's specific paradigms, therefore, in examining the collective attitudes, behaviors, and overall industry culture; creating a positive environment for professional growth is an individual firefighters choice.

It is often said the fire service is a people-centered industry devoted to service over self. It can further be argued there are underlying values, morals, and principles that must be understood. The great mystery in this argument is how will firefighters come to learn and apply these attributes in a meaningful way. In examining the higher-order of interpersonal relationships, the fire service can seek continuous improvement to the public it serves and the firefighters who serve within. “Cultural responsibility at the department level is probably the most difficult to infuse in today’s society.” (Ford, 2012, p. 21). The wisdom in learning more about ourselves and the courage to build a better value system ensures that the fire service will continue to place service above self.

“Emotional intelligence is generally accepted to be a combination of emotional and interpersonal competencies that influence our behavior, thinking, and interaction with others” (Macaleer & Shannon, 2002, p. 9). Firefighters largely fall into the type A personality chart. They are outgoing, aggressive, ambitious, and have attention to detail highly coveted by others. This surely explains the position of a firefighter's attitude and behaviors, but how does it explain their culture? Culture plainly described is the social order. The fire service certainly espouses its own culture and operating procedures in dealing with the human condition. Proper or desired leadership is contingent upon the level of understanding of emotional intelligence by the individual firefighter. “Leadership has been a core issue of organizations for decades, if not centuries. Anyone who has any role in working with organizations and their long-term effectiveness should begin to understand how emotional intelligence can affect leadership development” (Macaleer & Shannon, 2002, p. 10).

“Deep change, which is transformational in nature, places us in the position of being where we have never been before. Demanding tools we have never used before; it is, therefore, a very uncomfortable experience” (Kelly, 1988). It has been said many times there are two things a firefighter hates, change and the way things are! This uncomfortable feeling largely stems from a direct threat to the individual firefighter's needs. This threat is usually realized subconsciously and without much higher-order thinking. Simply using the word “change” can spike a firefighters blood pressure to the point of closing their perspective. Most transformational change is again, dependent upon the firefighter's need or willingness to accept that they actually want it! This uncomfortable feeling disrupts any self-actualizing thoughts and actions.

“All Organizational Behavior (OB) textbooks have a motivation chapter that includes a brief section on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a chart depicting the upward progression of those needs, and a useful set of tips for motivating employees” (O'Connor & Yballe, 2007, para. 3). The fire service must invest in developing higher-order thinking from its leaders. Paradoxically, the needs of the followers will, in turn, become the deliverables when they ascend into the organizational leadership role. Much of Maslow’s work has been misunderstood for quite some time. The pyramid shape often used is graphics and organizational textbooks miss the mark of the underlying self-actualization process. Maslow's teachings of the hierarchy of one's needs are incumbent upon the individual and what is actually perceived that is needed at the moment. “Maslow, in his humanistic view, based human behavior on the fulfillment of needs rather than it being solely dependent on the unconscious mind, instincts or a learned set of actions” (Schoo, 2008, para. 6).

A firefighter will, of course, develop learned behaviors. How a firefighter perceives this behavior is a direct result of the choices he or she makes. “Choice Theory assumes that we need to be internally motivated and that good relationship is the core of mental health and happiness. It also assumes that people have the ability to make responsible choices to obtain what they want” (Schoo, 2008, para. 5). In short, a firefighter learns their organizational values from other firefighters they are exposed to. It is the classic nature versus nurture psychological argument. The overarching goal of any service professional is to ensure that the mission, vision, and values are indoctrinated as early as possible. “The culture of unsafe practices may be so deeply ingrained that efforts to change are viewed as challenges to fundamental beliefs, while other unsafe practices are created by the culture of the fire and emergency service as a whole” (U.S. Fire Administration, 2015, p. 13). This new paradigm of self above others would suggest that emotions are still in control of behaviors, therefore, furthering the argument that culture shapes actions. Which is why it is imperative to take caution in how collectively the future of the fire service is shaped. Peter Drucker is often quoted as “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and he could not be more correct in his assessment. The strategy of fire service leaders must include efforts to embolden values and principles based on best practices learned from emotional intelligence with the full understanding that the firefighter's choice must come from within themselves.

A firefighter's behaviors are a direct result of their attitude. It is impossible to have positive outcomes with improper behaviors if the firefighter's mindset is not cultivated. This is where a divide within the fire service can be seen. The behaviors of the older generations of firefighters differ in many ways than the newer generations. For example, the introduction of Crew Resource Management into the fire service can be understood as a direct challenge of authority. While the younger generation has been indoctrinated to ask questions, the older generation understands this to be a lack of a willingness to comply thus, the appearance of entitlement is born.

Attitudes, behaviors, and the overall industry culture are directly impacted by the choices firefighters make. As a leader, understanding the hierarchy of firefighter's needs is vital to help individuals seek continuous improvement professionally and personally. Emotional intelligence helps to shape the paradigm of culture. Learned behaviors either positive or negative in actions will most certainly impact the individual and the organization. In choosing to seek improvement in the understanding of soft skills such as interpersonal relationships, choice theory, and the hierarchy of what firefighters need will have a huge return on investment. The only question left to ask is, the preparations and investments that are made solid enough to leave the fire service in better condition today than it was yesterday?





Dixon, J. (2017). The dichotomy of attitudes, behaviors, and culture.
Retrieved from

Ford, T. (2012). Fire and emergency services safety and survival. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Kelly, R. (1988). In praise of followers. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Macaleer, W. & Shannon, J. (2002). Emotional intelligence: How does it affect leadership?
Retrieved from detail/detail?vid=1&sid=5a260073-1e7a-4cd3-980a-f4abfa8aca86@sdc-v-

O'Connor, D., & Yballe, L. (2007). Maslow revisited: constructing a road map of human nature.
Journal of Management Education. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-<br< a="">>

Schoo, A. (2008). Leaders and their teams: Learning to improve performance with emotional intelligence and using choice theory. International Journal of Reality Therapy.
Retrieved from


U.S. Fire Administration (2015). National safety culture change initiative.
Emmitsburg, MD: FEMA

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Fire Service Cultural Variations

The Thinker

The fire service culture of an “aggressive” nature in its current form may be attributed to dominant ideologies and the subsequent societies that have developed. In order to further identify best practices we must first investigate cultural diffusion and the elements that are allowed to reside within the profession. In taking a deeper look into formal and informal norms, we can hopefully learn more about self, and how our individual roles of socialization can positively or negatively impact the future of the fire service.

It has been said many times, the fire service is a people centered, outcome driven organization and as such we must further our understanding of culture, social structure, interaction, and deviance. Our recognition of who we are as individuals and the relationships between social forces will undoubtedly shape our social imaginations.

Although the fire service has many long standing traditions that are generally accepted worldwide, the adjective of aggressive is very subjective depending upon geography. There are certainly two sides to this discussion and depending upon which country, state, or local organization we belong to; the significance of place is vital to understand. “To put it simply, place matters. Our position relative to others shapes our access to resources and influences the options available to us” (Witt, J., 2016, pg. 3). The greatest resource in the fire service is our people. Our people come from many different backgrounds and cultures. As we try to funnel so many varying perspectives into a singular mindset or professional worldview, we may be inadvertently secluding best practices and perspectives.

In a recent trade magazine article, the author opines about what the word aggressive actually means within the context of firefighting. “The word aggressive conjures a level of pride for some and liability and injuries for others” (Rhodes, 2018, para 1). The author further explains the subjective adjective by segmenting informed intelligent actions as opposed to ill-informed decisions based from a perspective of ego. On the opposite side of the ongoing debate is what has been commonly called the “safety culture.”

It can be said the mere whisper of the word safety implies cowardness. Now many pundits, on both sides of the debate, will offer up their talking points but fail to properly articulate their frame of reference. Sociologists refer to this phenomenon as the consequence of difference. We must pay further attention to the analysis of social power. It is vital to understand how social power plays an enormous role in shaping the how and why of our actions.

The fire service in most recent years is relying on scientific data to improve upon our delivery service(s). Whether it be in our emergency medical service, community risk reduction, cancer prevention, mental health, or even our extinguishment methodologies; empirical evidence is challenged on a daily basis. Some of the brightest individuals will say that everything depends on context. Many of the arguments offered up contain very little empirical data to support a frame of reference which leaves nothing more than anecdotal explanations. Perhaps Abraham Maslow was spot on in his assessment that “if the only tool we have in our toolbox is a hammer, everything will appear to be a nail” (Maslow, A., 1966).

In order to further conceptualize culture we must first know that there are three elements or units of measure which defines culture. What we think or believe is known as cognitive culture. Many of us in the fire service today are so deep rooted in our belief systems that it oftentimes is difficult at best to keep our staunchly held beliefs centered. Therefore, we must focus on normative culture. According to Witt (2016), the way in which we establish or enforce our principles of conduct is the third pillar of culture.

Folkways are described as standard or normal everyday behavior. This behavior governs and provides general guidelines for how we act within a culture. “Such norms are less rigid in their application, and their violation raises comparatively little concern” (Witt, J., 2016, pg. 55). So let’s outline a few of our everyday behaviors that are deemed important but when we choose to deviate from these norms, it causes little concern.

Shined shoes, tightly packed hose beds, physical fitness standards, and education levels just to name a few, are viewed as extremely important yet, when we see a large variation within organizations; little is often done to correct this behavior. Usually, the attitudes that I have found is general ridicule and or shame in the court of public opinion.

Having been blessed to travel internationally as well as across the United States, these folkways vary upon geography. Some regions and the people within, view the aforementioned norms as important while others struggle to achieve simple baselines. This is where the comparatively little concern plays a role. Will having shined duty boots make a firefighter stretch an attack hose line quicker? Will civil service organizations which only require a high school diploma not comprehend or perform as well as organizations which require higher education degrees? It can be argued that physical fitness should contain very little ambiguity yet, we see so many varying fitness performance standards across the country. These questions are left open ended in our profession because the default answer is “it depends.”

The values of the fire service are listed in order of importance. Life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation. These values are non-negotiable. “Values are norms deemed highly necessary to the welfare of a society” (Witt, J., 2016, pg. 55). There has been and will continue to be great debate on how we as a profession will execute these values. As a young firefighter I embodied these values in my service to others. We don’t need to look far to see these values described as a “for them” movement.

Now as a Captain and Executive Officer of a platoon of firefighters, these self-evident values mean a greater deal to me. My frame of reference has changed. Not only must we focus on the public that we swore and oath to protect, as a fire officer, I must now also include the people in my charge.

This is where cultural variation plays its role. “Unfortunately for us, the two paradigms exist just in the context of the term aggressive” (Rhodes, 2018, para 9). Investigating context in our values such as bravery, mental toughness, value of life, and service above self; we see a recurring theme. These are of course our most noble endeavors of our “why.” Two great fire service leaders and educators have opined on this paradigm for years. Consider this, are we confusing our sense of duty with predetermined actions? Are the desired outcomes born from past best practices or perceived professional social influence? Perhaps Dr. Clark may have found the answer in his research. The following is an excerpt from Doctors Kunadharaju, Smith, and DeJoy from the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia. They published a paper titled "Line of Duty Deaths among U.S. Firefighters: An Analysis of Fatality Investigations." 

Operating with too few resources, compromising certain roles and functions, skipping or short-changing operational steps and safeguards, and relying on extreme individual efforts and heroics may reflect the cultural paradigm of firefighting. This should not be construed to be a culture of negligence or incompetence, but rather a culture of longstanding acceptance and tradition. Within many fire-service organizations, these operational tenants may be accepted as “the way we do things.” Moreover, this tolerance of risk maybe reinforced both externally and internally through the positive public image of firefighters and firefighting  and internally through the fire service’s own traditions and member socialization. (Kunadharaju, Smith, & DeJoy, 2011)

How are we normalized in our organizations? What values are espoused and reinforced? I firmly believe that our value system in today’s fire service is unwavering at its core and will hopefully never change. What I also believe taking place is that significance of these values are dependent upon where the organizations exists. Urban, rural, big city, or small community; it can be argued that bravery, mental toughness, and service above self, are set in stone but how we choose to exemplify these values vary. 

Chief Alan Brunacini further clarifies, as only he can, in firefighter language:

When the fire kills us, our department typically conducts a huge ritualistic funeral ceremony, engraves our name on the honor wall, and makes us an eternal hero. Every line-of-duty death gets the same terminal ritual regardless if the firefighter was taking an appropriate risk to protect a savable life or was recreationally freelancing in a clearly defensive place. A fire chief would commit instant occupational suicide by saying that the reason everyone is here today in their dress blues is because the dearly departed failed to follow the department safety plan. Genuine bravery and terminal stupidity both get the same eulogy. Our young firefighters are motivated and inspired to attack even harder by the ceremonialization of our battleground deaths. (Clark, 2015, pg. 42)

Values are important. They are the backbone of the “why” we make the decisions we do. The argument that I am posing is this. Where and who do we learn our fire service values from?

Moving forward in describing types of normative culture brings us to mores. Mores (pronounced “MOR-ays”) are norms deemed highly necessary to the welfare of a society, often because they embody core values. Each society demands obedience to its mores; violation can lead to severe penalties” (Witt, J., 2016, pg. 56). Think for a minute of at least two mores that are widely debated in today’s fire service. Cowardness and conformity.

Cowardness simply defined is one who lacks courage. Other than a firefighter refusing to uphold core values the dagger of words is often thrown. We need not look far especially on social media before someone is labeling someone else a coward based off an event for which the name caller was not in attendance. What if we were to turn the tables towards those in the over-aggressive camp? What type of social sanctions could we employ to correct behavior? Conformity is defined as someone who uphold standards, rules, and laws.                     

Conformity occurs in both positive and negative behaviors. It is important to understand that culture is either by design or default. Deviant behavior and actions are a result of learning the norms, values and beliefs of the organization as a whole. We must properly indoctrinate our personnel to higher standards if we wish for the culture change to take hold. (Dixon, 2015, para 10).

Having attended numerous conferences, hands on training events, working as an instructor in an academy, and developing relationships with other firefighters; I can attest that our standards are not mutually agreed upon. There are subcultures operating deep within that have been exasperated by dominant ideology. In today’s society, it is very evident that in order to maintain good social standing from our peers we must choose to conform.

The line in the sand has been drawn for quite some time now. Those who may be operating within a subculture engage in their own unique and distinctive forms of behavior. But should we be concerned with good social standing or positive change? 

Agents of Socialization
Our “self” is developed by our interactions with others. It makes complete sense to correlate our behaviors because of the environments we operate in. Our social environments shape us. “Family, friends, schools, peers, the mass media, the workplace, religion, and the state are among the agents of socialization that play the most powerful roles in shaping who we become” (Witt, J., 2016, pg. 74). As previously mentioned, the fire service is a people centered organization. As such, it only makes sense to understand that we are powerfully driven by peer groups and mass media.

Peer Groups & Mass Media
Perception shapes action. As we choose how we are going to conform to a standard of actions and beliefs, we must understand just how much influence our selected peer groups bestow. There are countless strategies and tactics that have been confirmed or denied strictly based off peer group validation. Without singling out any one specific tactic, a firefighter somewhere, somehow, will either justify or condemn the action purely because it was the cool thing to do. They viewed it on the University of YouTube or a dominant Facebook Page.

This is a form of social control. As a society we employ strategies and tactics to hopefully avoid the normalization of deviance. Our attitudes, behaviors, and developed culture play a significant role in how we develop our self. The fire service prides itself on the similarity of a para-military hierarchy. Sadly, the intrinsic hierarchy is losing its value.

The normative culture found inside our organizations are being challenged. Not from those within the organization but rather those who are on the outside looking in. The trade journals and textbooks do their best to provide accurate information in an unbiased fashion but the authors are strictly speaking from their own paradigms. This perspective may be incongruent with how the newer generations of firefighters are learning.

The personal impact of moving through the ranks and holding various fire service positions has been enjoyable. Many stereotypes that I held on both sides of the debate of safety and aggression have been broken. This is because the stringent dogma in both camps are geared towards positive outcomes. No one comes to work or responds to an emergency with the preconceived notion of failure. Deviance is invisible to those who are deviant. It takes a strong social community to help show the way towards positive outcomes.

There are staunchly held beliefs. When individual belief systems are challenged the fight or flight syndrome becomes evident. Instead of fighting those with opposing worldviews, we should make it our mission to come to a better understanding of others viewpoints.

“We must first seek to understand, then to be understood.” - Saint Francis


Clark, D. B. (2015). I can’t save you but I’ll die trying: the American fire culture.
Nashville, TN: Premium Press America.

Dixon, J. (2015). The Normalization of Deviance.
Retrieved from:

Kunadharaju, K., Smith, T., DeJoy, D. (2011). Line-of-duty deaths among U.S. firefighters: An analysis of fatality investigations
Place of publication not identified: Elsevier
Retrieved from:

Maslow, A. H. (1966). Psychology of Science. Place of publication not identified: Harper & Row.

Rhodes, D. (2018). You Bet We're Aggressive.
Retrieved from:

Witt, J. (2016). SOC 2016 (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

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Leadership Exemplified - How to BE the Example


Most of us in the fire and emergency services would agree that leadership matters and is vital to the successful outcomes of any organization. We could also agree that many so called leadership gurus and fire service personalities are out on the circuit pontificating their tricks of the trade. There is certainly no shortage of people instructing or promoting their own “how to” guide to get other people to accomplish tasks that they want them to do.

It can be said, that the old adage of “setting the example” is only half of the algebraic equation. So if we as leaders are challenged for “solving for X” what is the formula? The answer may be a lot simpler than we may think. In order to set the example we as leaders must first be the example.


I’m certain that there is much to agree upon with the qualities and traits that are necessary to exemplify true leadership. It would be futile to try and list them all within this blog post. So instead, let’s focus on a few that we as leaders have direct control over every day. Our attitudes, behaviors, and culture.

Our attitudes directly control the temperature of not only ourselves but everyone around us as well. Is it possible to maintain a positive attitude every time all of the time? Of course not! We are human, and as such, there will be times that we have moments that we will want to choke out a poodle (inside joke). This is perfectly normal! Now before PETA gets their leashes in a bunch; no animals were harmed in the writing of this blog! The last thing I want is Sarah McLachlan making a commercial about me, but I digress.

We must remember that we are in total control of how our attitudes are perceived. Is it okay for our people to see us angry, burned out, and cynical? I say yes, but we must maintain our tact and bearing. For those who have served in the military you know exactly what I’m talking about. Think about the fireground for a moment. When things get hairy and the incident commander starts to lose their bearing by screaming on the radio, does this not set a specific course of actions into play? Tensions rise and errors may occur. Same goes for our leadership profile. Be angry, however remain in control. Do not take that anger out on others, especially those whom we are leading.


This is the Holy Grail of leadership! I have a huge problem with so called leaders who say that “I’m not here to be their friend, I’m here to make sure things get done!” As leaders, and as exemplified by the Navy SEALs we must be focused on the TEAM life. Does this mean that we have to be the most popular person on our platoon? In our organization? Of course not. If a leader has to tell you that they are the BOSS, they most certainly are not behaving like a leader. Collar pullers need not apply! “Without recognizing the balance between getting the work done and being popular, a leader will simply create roadblocks to leadership success and teamwork” (Karpluk & Quan, 2013, pg. 112).

The problem with being the popular leader or better known as a charismatic leadership style is this, the only people who will follow your lead are those who are likeminded and have a similar mindset. Albeit either positive or negative in nature. Our behavior is directly correlated to our attitudes. Once charismatic leaders are finished pulling rabbits out of their hats, their magic is gone. They’re out of tricks.

Being the example, is ensuring that our own actions are not inviting the wrong type of critic. Let’s face it, there are many critics out there just waiting for us to make an error in judgement. They lie in waiting like snakes in the grass awaiting the opportunity to slither in and spew their venom. We see this all too often on the inter-webs and throughout social media.

Beware of the fire service rock star on social media! Their egos will soon reveal their true behaviors. “The do as I say, and not as I do mantra!” “The first thing a leader must declare is not authority because of rights, but authority because of relationships” (Maxwell, 1993, pg. 118). Remember this: people “buy into” the leader before they “buy into” his or her leadership!


There seems to be a civil war in terms of the current culture in the fire service these days. There are a great number of people who wish to see improvement upon how we do business. Sadly, these transformational leaders are under attack for their vision. “A leader’s job is to look into the future and see his or her organization, not as it is, but as it will be” (Viscuso, 2013, pg. 17). If we are to set a positive path forward we must not lose sight of the culture that we are fostering.

As aforementioned, the inter-webs are bustling with opinions on how things should be based off anecdotal experiences. It doesn’t take long to see the word “aggressive” used and misused over and over again as a badge of courage or a vindication of culture.

How about we set a culture of aggressively taking care of those in our charge? Could you imagine the possibilities if we were to develop our people within the organization to become better people? Wouldn’t a better crop of people who truly have personal skills be better for the organization as a whole? My good friend Chief Steve Prziborowski and his organizations suggest that we should hire for character and train for skill. I couldn’t agree more brother!

In Closing

Look for transformational leaders that are in the trenches. Quietly striving for self-improvement but most importantly, setting a path for others to join them along the way. If you have been following my writings hopefully a pattern has emerged. Surely, I can teach firefighters to force doors. What I’m striving to accomplish is having firefighters force their minds to seek continuous improvement. I truly believe that it all starts with our attitudes, behaviors, and cultures. Don’t focus so much on trying to set an example. Simply BE the example.


Karpluk & Quan (2013). Leadership Prescribed. Self-Published.
Maxwell, J. C. (1993). Developing the leader within you. Nashville: Thomas Nelson .
Viscuso, F. (2013). Step up and lead. Tulsa, OK: PennWell Corporation.

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To better define empowerment and truly understand what this action is, we must fully understand what it is not. Stopping unsafe acts is directly impacted by our abilities to empower others to act; therefore we must also become empowered ourselves.

Empowerment is a very strong word. It can be said that this action is often met with great resistance because it allows for the transfer of power. “To empower is to enable, or to equip or supply with an ability” (Ford, 2012, p. 81). This action of giving authority to others is sometimes misunderstood. The American fire service has become much better in recent years allowing its members to step up and assume more responsibilities.

The very opposite of empowerment is micromanagement. This will cause many people and organizations to become stagnant. In order for empowerment to be embraced, we as a service organization must think along the lines of investment. Investing in our people is the best way to empower them. A great way of accomplishing a positive culture change is to employ the ABC’s.


We must expect and demand as a professional service the utmost in our people’s attitudes. A positive mindset can only be fostered by empowering others with positive surroundings such as access to quality training, formal education, and progressiveness. We are all in direct control of our attitudes but we are also greatly influenced by the level of empowerment we receive from our superiors. The trickledown effect of a positive culture will be a huge return of investment.


Our behaviors are a direct result of our attitudes. It is impossible to have positive outcomes with our behaviors if our mindset is not cultivated. This is where a divide within the fire service can be seen. The behaviors of the older generations of firefighters differ in many ways than the newer generations. The introduction of Crew Resource Management into the fire service is seen as a direct challenge of authority.

While the younger generation has been indoctrinated to ask questions, the older generation understands this to be a lack of a willingness to comply thus the appearance of entitlement is born.


The ability for empowerment to help stop unsafe acts is dependent upon our knowledge, skills and abilities. The development of KSA’s is directly impacted by the culture within our organization. “The foundation of the future lies in the concept of empowerment” (Ford, 2012. P. 82). Some may say that the fire service culture is doomed. These are specifically the people that would say empowering others is a mistake. They lack the understanding of evolution.

As an Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, it is my humble duty to pontificate the sixteen Life Safety Initiatives. The number one initiative is in fact calling for a cultural change.

Life Safety Initiative #1

Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety; incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility.

“It is important to understand that culture is either by design or default. Deviant behavior and actions are a result of learning the norms, values and beliefs of the organization as a whole” (Dixon, 2015).

In closing, many focus simply on kinesthetic actions in order to stop unsafe acts. In hindsight, many of the tragic outcomes could have been prevented. It is far easier to prevent a drift into failure than it is to correct. The development of our ABC’s is paramount in setting the trend of empowerment.

It does no one any good to keep correcting ourselves on the fireground from negative outcomes when we cannot control our own attitudes, behaviors and ultimately develop a more positive culture while we are back in the station.


Ford, T. (2012). Fire and emergency services safety and survival. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Dixon, J. (2015). The Normalization of Deviance. Firehouse Magazine, Vol. 40, N.10. p.49.

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