Firehouse Magazine

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Instructor John Dixon

Passionate, Relevant, and Current Knowledge Sharing For Your Department

Exercising Referent Power


Traditionally, anytime a fire officer must “speak to” a firefighter within their command, the communication is characterized as a form of negative discipline. Therefore, I propose an alternative to the “speaking to” and replacing the context towards a more positive perception of “speaking with!” Coaching and counseling are certain forms of progressive discipline which is to achieve a change in undesirable behavior. It can be argued that the root word of discipline is to disciple. Leading or teaching someone towards a favorable outcome in a mutually approved value and belief system. The return on the fire officer's investment for their time and energy in conducting a coaching or counseling exercise will certainly yield an increase in the desired behavior.

An issue that can be found within personnel management is, in fact, the title itself. It has often been said by multiple people in various contexts that “ you manage things and lead people!” In society today, we find ourselves living in a time when words really matter. What if we as leaders were to exemplify our words to mimic our actions? Therein lies the holy grail of leadership, the proverbial eight hundred pound Halligan that exists in every fire service organization which begs the question; why do you have power over me?

“One of the first works on the management of power was The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli’s masterpiece posthumously published in 1532” (Ward, 2015, p. 129). According to French and Raven (1959), two social psychologists published works describing forms of power. One of the five forms of power they identified is called referent power. This power further defined is when an individual who is the subordinate complies with suggestions for improvement due to an admiration for the superior who holds the given power over them. I would like to improve upon this thought process on power and offer a different perspective; the power that is given is not implied rather it is mutually shared.

“Using power wisely requires not only self-reflection and positive motivation of those you lead, but also understanding the resulting value that comes from these actions” (Sherman & Cohen, 2019, para. 8). When coaching someone, referent power is shared because the individual receiving the coaching is open to the information given by the coach. In this case, it’s a fire officer trying to improve upon a course of action for the future. This requires the action of forecasting behavior. It further requires a dual motivation that value will be tangible and easily noticed by both parties. If this value is not recognized, the next step must be to counsel the subordinate.

The action of counseling moves the pendulum from a shared power, a referent power, to more of legitimate power. An example would be, a form of hazing that occurred in the fire station which must be addressed immediately but the action does not rise to a formal disciplinary procedure. It may be a first-time offense or simply an out of context remark. Either way, this action mandates a change from a “speaking with” to a “speaking to!” It has often been said that leaders will accept what they allow. “When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable; if there are no consequences-that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must set standards” (Willink & Babin, 2015, p. 54).

Although the action of counseling is a form of legitimate power, the self-control and example of the superior officer must model the desired behavior asked of the subordinate. This is the delicate balance of power. The authority is given by the organization to conduct such an exercise but, the personal authority to listen and improve is given by the person receiving the counseling. If the fire officer is demonstrating a duplicitous leadership style, no form of coaching and counseling will prove to be effective.

Recommendations for fire service leaders vary from one guru to the next. The one singular action that reverberates above all others is our example. This is the most powerful leadership tool and certainly, the most widely coveted by followers. Having a positive example to follow makes ethical decision making much easier. This is because desired behavior has already been established and modeled. Even the best leaders around receive coaching from people who are in their inner circles who model behavior the leaders themselves are trying to emulate. Referent power is implied and shared mutually.
Motivation to continue on a specific leadership journey lies within the positive behavior and or outcomes that any individual seeks to achieve. This is where referent power ascends into legitimate power. The example of the leader is legitimized not only by people who may be on the receiving end of coaching/counseling, but the organization as a whole is legitimized by the behaviors of their leaders.

Management in the fire service must not be about people. We can manage the budget, apparatus, and standard operating guidelines. Leadership is a lifestyle learned through years of challenges and failures. These failures were turned into leadership successes through coaching and counseling which were paid forward to future generations of firefighters. This is the leadership continuum. Living the right example taught to us by those who have lived it before us. Their power was legitimized because of the referent power we shared with them.


French, John R.P. and Bertram Raven. Bases of Social Power. Studies in Social Power. Ed. Dorwin Cartwright. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,1959.

             Retrieved from

Sherman, R. O., & Cohn, T. M. (2019). Using leadership power wisely: Learn how to use power in the service of others. American Nurse Today.
             Retrieved from https://link-gale-<br< a="">>

Ward, M. J. (2015). Fire officer: Principles and practice (Enhanced 3rd ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2018). Extreme ownership: how U.S. Navy SEALs lead and win. Sydney, N.S.W.: Macmillan.

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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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Accountability Issues - Who are we accountable to?


FIREHOUSE | Health & Safety Report | 2018

We need not listen too hard before we hear the loud beat of the proverbial accountability drum in today’s fire service. There are many organizations devoted to ensuring that individuals and organizations alike are emphasizing the importance of accountability. But are we all on the same page? What actions are attributed to the path of continuous improvement? Let’s analyze how we are accountable, not only to ourselves but also to the organizations to which we belong and, ultimately, the public we swore an oath to protect.

Personal Accountability

Mission, vision, and values comprise the foundation of a solid fire department. Naturally, one of the hardest, yet most rewarding, accountability actions an individual can perform is completing a personal mission, vision and values statements. Not many emergency service members have them, but developing these statements is the first step among many others toward holding ourselves accountable.


Enhance the personal and organizational accountability for health and safety throughout the fire service.

It can be said that the fire service is a large jigsaw puzzle of which we are only a small piece. So how do we know where we fit? We must remember that, first and foremost, we are accountable to ourselves. We are faced with many trying decisions during our careers. It is therefore vital for our future success that we know our “why,” as this must serve as the backbone of our decisions. 

Organizational Accountability

Sometimes we focus so much on our service delivery to the public that departments can forget that their greatest assets are the people. Organizations can enhance accountability through three primary approaches: 1) education, 2) physical and psychological health and 3) ownership.

Education: Knowledge is power. Is the organization doing everything it can to ensure that its members are learning, on and off the fireground? If your department doesn’t have the resources to provide continuing education and training, there are free tools available. The Fire Hero Learning Network
( offers free virtual training programs on topics like Stress First Aid, Communication and Mentoring for Company Officers, and a newly released module on Automatic Fire Sprinkler and Alarm Systems.

Physical and psychological health:
Physical and psychological health is vital for accountability. The NFFF has partnered with outstanding organizations to enhance our understanding of the physical and psychological needs of firefighters.

Ownership: We must hold our organizations accountable for prioritizing our ownership of our health and safety. Are we willing to accept that our organization may be vulnerable or drifting toward a preventable injury or LODD?

The Vulnerability Assessment Program ( is a tool to help organizations identify gaps in resources and service capabilities, with resources to address those gaps. Developing protocols to help eliminate exposure to carcinogens is a must. Final thoughts Do you wash your gear often? Does the organization provide methods of control?

Final Thoughts

Do you wear your SCBA during overhaul? Does your department mandate it? In order to improve personal and organizational accountability, we must challenge ourselves and ask tough questions. If it feels uncomfortable, good; that means there is room for improvement.

Accountability takes courage—a trait firefighters pride themselves on. That courage works both ways, to hold ourselves and our organization accountable for getting everyone home.

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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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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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Identifying Morals, Values, and Principles – How To Become The Best Version of YOU!


There are plenty leaders standing alone on the proverbial organizational island. It has been said time and time again “the higher up the food chain we ascend, the lonelier we may become.” Why is this so? Perhaps we may have lost sight of how vital our values and principles transcend any leadership style. Let’s identify a few of what may be many examples of the values and principles that are exemplified by outstanding leaders in the fire and emergency services.

The subjectivity of the human condition when discussing values is evident and absolutely normal. The ideology behind our value systems has been cultivated in the timeless debate of nature versus nurture. The environment that we have been raised within as young children most certainly cultivates our lives as we evolve and grow into adulthood. This is where and when our values were cultivated. The roots and foundation are grown and poured to help us build our own unique personal values. There is a cumulative effect of exposure albeit either positively or negatively as we further develop our own values into principles.

Once we can identify what true morals, principles, and values are, we can place the purpose of them into the context of personal, organizational, and community environments. Let’s start with the definition of morals.

Morals – A standard of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable, relating to principles or teaching a concept of right or wrong.

Morals can be equally thought of as character. It can be further defined as the “what” we do when no one is watching us. Our moral compasses and character is what we hold self-evident and display which speaks volumes about our morals. Why do we make the decisions we do? How do we know what is right and what is wrong? We can all agree that lying is wrong yet many of us do this with ease in many different situations. The most egregious lie of all may be to ourselves. By not following our intuitive moral compass we may find ourselves lost and on the wrong path of self-righteousness.

Once we can truly identify what our individual morals are, such as honesty, kindness, and empathy we can build a solid foundation upon leadership principles and styles. “Style refers to the manner and methods that a leader uses to interact with other people, especially those whom they lead and especially when making decisions” (Thiel, A. K., & Jennings, C. R., 2012, p. 196). The morals that we exemplify directly correlates as to the “why” behind our decisions.

So now that we understand the “why” let’s translate the “what and how” into our leadership style. These principles will affect how we practice personal and organizational leadership.

Principles – Rules or laws that one has identified and accepted which governs one’s personal behavior.

Once we can identify the foundational norms, values, and beliefs that represent what is desirable and positive for a person, group, and organization; we can communicate these principles into leadership actions. Such principles as: integrity, tact, bearing, knowledge, and judgement just to name a few of the many; are the “how” we will come to a decision crossroads intertwined with our morals. Hopefully, we can start to see a pattern, a continuum. It is at this crucial intersection that we use our moral compass to guide us and help us find the “true North” of leadership.

As leaders we can begin to outline personal and organizational principles which in turn will develop a system of values to follow. Many people are searching for the Holy Grail of leadership. There is no singular method or equation for quantifying personal or organizational success. There is no magic formula. This is where developing a values/vision statement will help to guide us on the right path. The path of continuous improvement!

Values – Important and lasting beliefs or ideals, shared by the members of a culture, about what is “good or bad” and “desirable or undesirable.”

Values have a major influence upon a person’s behavior and attitude. They serve as broad guidelines in all situations. Such values as: altruism, compassion, diversity, and generosity to simply name a few. This is one part of the aforementioned leadership continuum. This is a non-linear process. Our decisions are not meant to go from East to West or North to South. We as leaders must analyze the impact of our decisions as they pertain to our unique morals, values, and principles. These decisions will not only impact ourselves but will most assuredly impact the organization as a whole.

Often times we may hear that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Many people will opine that it’s either non-existent or extremely low. One way to inspect this challenge is to re-examine the core values within an organization. Do the organizational values align with the values of the people who reside within it? Are the shareholders in concert with the organizational mission statement? If the answer is anything other than yes, it’s time to break out our moral compasses to find our true North, go back to the map to find our original starting point, and retrace our steps.

In closing, I firmly believe that analyzing our morals, principles, and values will help frame and build us as leaders in order to construct our mission statement. Otherwise, how will we know how to make the best decisions? Hopefully, if you have been following me you will have seen my Personal Mission Statement:

“Together WE can lead, encourage, and motivate each other towards seeking continuous improvement while promoting emergency service excellence within ourselves and others one day at a time.”

This mission statement was not developed over night. The morals, principles, and values that were, and continue to be engrained within me are geared towards seeking continuous improvement in all aspects my personal and professional goals.

I offer you this challenge. Take some time to self-evaluate your own set of morals, principles, and values. Be absolutely honest with yourself. Try to understand who you truly are and the goals you wish to accomplish personally and professionally. Jot these goals down. After sometime, you will recognize that you have plotted the coordinates on the path to success. Guess what.... If you don’t already have a personal mission statement, you’ve just created the scaffolding or blueprints to build one.

I would be humbled and honored to read and or help anyone in this process. If you have a personal mission statement completed already, please send it to me. Post it on social media! Be proud. If you don’t have one, what are you waiting for? There is greatness within you. Simply identify the best version of you and then execute the plan.


Cover Photo Courtesy: Chris Baker

Thiel, A. K., & Jennings, C. R. (2012). Managing fire and emergency services. Washington, D.C.: International City/County Management Association.

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3 Simple Ways to Improve Personal Accountability

3 Simple Ways to Improve Personal Accountability

We in the fire service should be very familiar with the term accountability. On the fire ground it’s referred to as performing a P.A.R. (personal accountability report) or roll call; and usually this report whether it’s communicated via the radio or through a face to face is to ensure that our crews are safe, where they are supposed to be, and that conditions are improving.

The textbooks all say to some varying degree the time interval as to when these reports shall be performed; usually it happens when there is a drastic change in conditions or the incident action plan. I would like to offer up a different perspective on this truly life saving tactic. Let’s take this vital action and bring it over into our personal lives. We all have goals that we are working hard to accomplish. We all have a desired outcome of some sort either personally, professionally, and spiritually.

Let’s all become better at holding ourselves accountable as well as those that are around us, those we can influence, and those within our circle of trusted friends and family. Let’s create a network of accountability partners.

Here are 3 steps to create an accountability network.

Step #1 - Take an inventory of your goals.

Sit down and write them out. I have written my goals on index cards and placed them in my direct line of sight in my office. It’s often easy to set aside a tough goal due to the fact that we may choose to pile on more and more goals losing sight of our original personal game plan. I find what works for me is to write them down and constantly look at them. This helps me to remain focused on the tasks at hand and not take on more work than I can handle effectively.

Step #2 – Create the network.

Select a group of trusted friends, colleagues, or family members. Communicate your goals to them and describe how you plan on achieving them. In the digital age that we all live in these days, there is no excuse for not being able to communicate. There are many ways for all of us to stay in touch. We have email, text messages, and social media outlets. I don’t care if you have to send smoke signals, but it’s imperative to create the network.

Step #3- Perform the accountability check.

Once we have a clear understanding of our desired goals and set up the network, the next step is to hold everyone accountable. Take 20 minutes on a selected day of the week by all in the network and call each other. Ask if the actions we have taken during the week have moved us further to accomplishing the goals we strive for. Ask if there is anything you can do to help those within the network to get them closer to the goal. We are all stronger together. Develop the teamwork mentality.

Ladies and gentlemen, in my opinion the only way we can become better is to seek continuous improvement. Build upon your successes brick by brick. Create that solid foundation so you may build a life of happiness. Do not let the negative insurgency in your thoughts. Defeat them at all costs. Your network will help you.

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Why Professional Credentialing Is Important

It is with great humility and honor to share with you that I have earned the Fire Officer (FO) professional credential from the Center for Public Safety Excellence. Throughout this process I have been asked by many of my peers and fire service friends what this credential actually means. The very next question was how can they can start the process to earn a credential of their own. Allow me to first describe what the Center for Public Safety Excellence is.

What is the Center for Public Safety Excellence?

The Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. The primary resource for the fire and emergency profession to continuously improve services resulting in a higher quality of life for communities. CPSE has successfully helped public safety agencies around the world streamline and improve the services they provide their communities through its numerous programs and services.

CPSE provides the only accreditation program for fire service organizations in the world. The CPSE offers nationally-recognized designations for fire and emergency services officers. CPSE has over 200 accredited agencies and over 1700 designated officers throughout the world. The process of obtaining a credential is set by the Commission on Professional Credentialing (CPC). This commission is promulgated by rules and regulations set forth by the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). There is an Internationally accepted model which recognizes professional accomplishments and competence in fire and emergency services. CPSE offers fire and emergency service personnel career guidance and planning via many in-house programs and classes. 
(Click here for CPSE website)

Why Seeking Continuous Improvement is Important

As we progress in the fire service it is vital to perform internal checks and balances. These “gut checks” as I like to call them provide an unbiased outside evaluation of ourselves. Whether we serve as a career, volunteer, combination, paid on call, or what have you; we must pause from time to time and take stock in what and how we are moving forward personally and professionally. This is a prime example of operating outside of our comfort zones because the in-depth application process is reviewed by peers in the fire service with whom we have no connections with and forces us to reflect inward to look outward.

The balance of training and experience which is the holy grail in today’s fire service and highly coveted by all is part of the CPSE mission. Some will opine that simply placing a few letters after our names is not an indication of how salty of a firefighter/fire officer we are but I would challenge that sentiment with this question. “Have you allowed yourself to open up to an unbiased and critical evaluation of your professional pedigree?”

It is easy to continuously operate inside our comfort zones, surround ourselves only with likeminded peers, therefore never offering ourselves up for constructive criticism. This a disservice to those that we have sworn to protect.
I would be lying to all of you if I said that I wasn’t nervous and had second thoughts about submitting my application. Having said that, the process forced me to take an in depth look at my commitment to the fire service along with a ton of questions. Did I have enough education? Did I have enough experience? How will I explain this to the panel of peer reviewers? What if they say I’m not good enough?

In answering these questions, I realized that I was seeking continuous improvement and simply had to learn to itemize it! Think back to all those academy classes, individual self-study courses, countless hours of drills and many hours of reading publications. The college courses we felt would never end all the time questioning if this has any bearing whatsoever in performing our duties. I will tell you that it most certainly does! Everything that we do makes us better. We simply need to pause from time to time and take a personal inventory. This is what I call the process of seeking continuous improvement.

If you have been following me, you will know that I have a personal mission statement. This mission statement drives all of my decisions. It allows me to stay open and transparent with all of you and most importantly myself. If you have a mission statement of your own great! If not, I highly recommend that you start to develop one.
(I’m sensing another blog post on this)

The Process

This is a very brief overview of the application process. I have included the link to the CPSE website which will outline the process in greater detail once you obtain the application. There is no cost to obtain the application. Just go to the site, create a profile, and download the paperwork.

Be prepared to:
Write essays
Describe your position in the fire service such as job title functions
Create a table of organization showing where you fit in
Obtain letters of recommendation
Make copies of National, State, and local certifications
Chronologically list training, formal education, and continuing education
List professional affiliations to other organizations
List community service involvement
Speaking/Teaching engagements in conferences and such

All of this information will help in describing how you will measure up to the commissions core competencies. There are different competencies for each of the credentials. For the Fire Officer (FO) credential there are at least 12 that need to be satisfied. It would also be beneficial to review NFPA 1021 – The Professional Qualifications of Fire Officer. Each of the core competencies will need a signed attestation statement from a superior. So as you can see, this is not a walk in the park and there is a considerable amount of time that you will need to invest to complete this process. It took me about 4 months to complete. I can assure you though, once you complete the process you will have a 30,000-foot view of yourself and will see the path of continuous improvement before you in which self-reflection is a vital component.

In Closing

Again, I would like to thank all of my fire service peers and friends who have supported me throughout this process and encouraged me to fulfill my own personal mission as I strive for excellence. The brotherhood is alive and well!
If obtaining your professional credentials is something you are interested in, please feel free to reach out to me. I would be eager to tell you all about the process and be more than happy to help you complete the application. Please visit the CPSE website and see what credential is right for you. Be proud of who you are and what you have achieved. It’s a matter of personal pride and a sign of your continued dedication to the fire service.

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We Are On The Same Team…Right?

We Are On The Same Team…Right?

The Fire Service is changing.  Yet, some would argue that it isn’t and we still hold true to our cultures, traditions, and mission.  I would like to offer up a different perspective – a view of which I’m certain that will receive ridicule from those who do not like change.  For the purposes of this discussion, let’s rephrase the word change and use a positive and powerful word: Improvement.

Civil War

There appears to be a civil war brewing among us.  The thoughts, actions, and communications between us seem to be nothing more than ideological rhetoric that gains traction only within specific factions – in defense of a particular facet of culture or ideology rather than for the sake of honest and respectful discussion.   There are lines being drawn and foxholes being dug, on whatever side of the proverbial line in the sand that we happen to be standing.  One of the root causes (of which there were many) of the American Civil War was the act of Sectionalism.  This can be further defined as a divide between economies, social structures, customs, and political values. The South perceived the encroachment of the industrialized and urbanized North as a danger to their culture and way of life.  The same can be said of our beloved fire service.

An encroachment of fire service improvement may be perceived as a threat to those of us who hold a staunch belief that no improvement is necessary to how we operate.  Those of us who hold on so tightly to our set of values, culture structures, and beliefs would lead us to believe that improvement is merely change and therefore, is dangerous.

We must fight the urge to dive into a territorial crisis.  There is no north or south in the American fire service.  There is simply one fire service nation, and we must not become divided. Imagining the alternative is simply unthinkable.  We must seek continuous improvement, and if that means we must change the way we operate, interact, and learn, then so be it.  Change for the sake of saying we changed something is neither constructive nor positive.  Improvement on the other hand, is always warranted and desperately needed.  So let’s all stop saying we need to change.  Let’s focus on improvement instead.

Social Media

The Fire Service Civil War is alive and active throughout all the social media platforms.  We don’t need to look very hard to see daggers being thrown at one another from our keyboards.  There are those who say that social media is a necessary evil and has created a genre of “light weight instruction”.  In many cases however, these are the same people that use the same platform to drive the wedge deeper – thus further propagating a “civil war” simply because we may not agree.

Where we get our information is just as important as who we are allowing to occupy our valuable brain time.  Social media is a change agent that is sometimes perceived to be bad.  The reality is, it has improved our communication.  The burden of “checking the resume” now falls on the reader instead of formal institutions such as academies, universities, and conference organizers that vet instructors on many different levels to ensure a quality delivery.

Who we choose to follow, like, and associate with says a lot about the type of firefighter we are.  Many of us have fallen into the social media “trap”, (myself included), but I didn’t let that change me.  Instead, I learned to improve my communication style.

The Oath

I, (your name), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the State of (Name of state) against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, and I will faithfully and impartially discharge my duties as firefighter of the (name of department, city, township, etc.) under the appointment of the department according to the laws of the (State, township, county) to the best of my skills and abilities, so help me God.

There have been great debates on what the oath actually means.  While the wording is very straightforward, it is also somewhat subjective in nature.  Many of us have read or heard that it’s our duty to die for our citizens, that it’s our job to do so.  I challenge all of you to explain to me where in the oath that it’s expected of me to trade my life for that of someone else. If I should happen to die in the line of duty, it’s for a damn good reason and the circumstances were far outside of my control.  Yes, firefighting is inherently dangerous.  I accept that fact, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to trade my life for that of John Q Public under the auspices of tradition.

I have had the honor of taking one of the best oaths around.  When I raised my right hand and swore to protect a nation as a US Marine, that wasn’t a promise or an expectation that I would die in service to my country.  Rather, it was an expectation that I was going to make others die for theirs!  Again, I challenge anyone to show me where it says I’m willing to trade my life under the auspices of tradition.

The public demands that we are trained to the best of our abilities.  This is how we must interpret the oath. This is how we improve.

Same Team

We have brother and sister firefighters committing suicide at alarming rates, and we keep arguing about how to effectively apply water to a fire.  Heart disease and cancer rates are climbing, yet we argue about who or what agencies are receiving research funding.  We must remember that we are all on the same team; we all took the same oath!  It’s okay to have a difference in our passionate opinions.  But, we must rise above the rhetoric and improve upon how we talk and interact with one another.  

We must keep things in perspective with an objective to seek improvement.  I for one will be passionate about remaining positive and helping others to realize their full potential as firefighters and leaders.

Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. – Desmond Tutu

Choose to improve and lift others up instead of tearing them down.

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Apologetic Passion

Apologetic Passion

Let's examine why it may be beneficial to be apologetic for having passion.

Many leadership guru's, foward thinkers, and thought provokers will say "never be apologetic" for having passion for whatever it is that you choose to pursue in life. Whether it's your career, hobbies, and even your personal beliefs, our passions may fall under intense scrutiny by those who do not share it with us.

I would like to offer up a different perspective. Let's call it "Apologetic Passion."

Let me be as clear as I can be; I will never be one to apologize for my passion but I will apologize to others because they have chosen not to embrace it. I have learned to become sorry for them. You see, we all have a choice each and every morning when we rise from our beds. It may sound cliché but the choice we must choose is to be better than we were yesterday.

Continuously seeking out improvement no matter how big or small it may be. This is known as the "Kaizen" way of life.

Complacency and low morale are like bacteria growing within the body. It's going to take like minded individuals who band together like white blood cells attacking the bacteria. Those who have been vaccinated against positive leadership either don't know it because they are trapped by a culture of default rather than a culture by design or they have made a choice not to seek help and are looking to infect others.

Those who choose the attitude of "talking the talk" will soon have their motives uncovered, while those who have chosen to "walk the walk" will continue to do so. Whether it it's behind the scenes or out in the open. Our passion will shine through and become contagious.

Eventually natural selection will take over. Those who make the choice to become better will do so and those who choose not to will hopefully be eradicated. Attitudes, behaviors, and passion are contagious.

Let's ensure that our attitudes, passion, and most importantly our actions are qualities worth catching.

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Voices In Your Head

Voices In Your Head

While driving home this morning from a 38 hour moderately busy tour of duty in the station I started to hear a few voices that were whispering in my head. After turning off the radio to make sure I wasn't crazy or hallucinating the voices became louder. I would like to share with you what these voices were saying to me.

Let me first set the stage and explain why I think this was happening to me.

There was a recent LODD in NJ. The Firefighter was only 44 years young with a wife and family. He had worked a Christmas tour in his Fire Department and was called home by God.

This got me thinking as we all do when we learn of a LODD. Wow, only 44 and gone! This is when the first voice started to chime in. The voice said "John, this could have been you." I chalked this up to my inner subconscious trying to keep me on a path to ensuring that this doesn't happen to me, at least to the best of my ability.

I started to realize that I'm extremely tired and couldn't wait to get home to get some rest. Call it a day at 0930 hours and just be thankful that my ticket wasn't punched. This is when another voice started to whisper in my brain.

The voice said "Hey you. Yes you there. Go home, go to sleep. Waste the day!" "There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening to you!" This, my friends was the demon I call "Complacency!"

It would be very easy to pack it in for the day, take the easy way out and allow the "Negative Insurgency" to control me. As I drove closer to home and passed the gym the voice then said to me "Nah, you don't have the energy to work out today, just go home!" "There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening to you!"

As I continued to drive I looked down at a picture of my beautiful daughters on my dashboard and this is when the third and final voice spoke to me. "Don't do it for you, do it for them!" This is when my grip became a little bit tighter, my knuckles turning white on my steering wheel. I started to become angry with myself. Why was I allowing the negative insurgency to speak to me? Why was I even listening?

The moral of the story here folks is we all struggle with the voices in our heads. Its ok, we are not crazy. These voices are sometimes good for us to hear. This is what allows us to make the decisions to become better. To not let the negative insurgency take control of us. This is what I like to call motivation. It comes in all shapes, sizes and voices.

In times such as these I remember all the conversations I have had with my close friends and mentors or as my good friend Andy Starnes likes to say, "The Board of Directors", helping me on my journey towards becoming better. Lifting me up when I'm down.

Upon reflection when I finally arrived home from my hour long commute, I hugged my wife and children a little tighter this day. Looked at the couch and shouted out "NO!" Got changed to go to the gym and made a decision that I will not let complacency win. The negative insurgency has no place in my head. Seek continuous improvement, don't ever give up!

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