Firehouse Magazine

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Instructor John Dixon

Passionate, Relevant, and Current Knowledge Sharing For Your Department

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

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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

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

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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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Are You A Seeker?

Are You A Seeker?

On the road of life there are many positive courses of action that can be taken. As we all have come to understand, there are positive outcomes as well as negative ones. The choices we all make each and every day play a huge part in where the road takes us. What thoughts, actions, and decisions are we making to ensure that we will arrive at our desired destination? What do you seek in life?

The title of this article asks a very profound question.


Let's examine how we can become better at becoming a seeker rather than a peeker.

Seek Knowledge & Wisdom

Some may say that the fire service is heading down the wrong road. There appears to be a line in the sand in terms of where the destination must be. The us versus them mentality. Why?

We should all become better at listening to others points of view. We should all become better at listening with the intent to understand rather than the intent to reply. Merely peeking into a portion of a message, training tactic or thoughts of action is a disservice to all. It's counterproductive and damaging to the end game, the destination.

How will you seek knowledge and wisdom?

Seek Mental & Physical Fitness

There is a growing epidemic within the fire service. Our mental and physical fitness levels are declining. Why are we allowing this to happen to ourselves? We preach brotherhood but fail to live up to the actions of what is expected of a brotherhood.

Suicide and substance abuse are climbing at alarming rates. Are we truly our brother's keepers or are we just peeking into the problem and hiding within the shadows.

90 Percent of what we do as firefighters and first responders occurs off of the fire ground or emergency scene but we focus solely on the 10 percent of the actions we perform the least.

Gordon Graham says it best. We are focusing on the high frequency /low risk events when we should be focusing on the high risk/ low frequency events.

When was the last time you went to the gym? When was the last time you did a push up or got your heart rate up to improve your cardio profile? Our fitness levels are a direct result of recent LODD.
In NJ alone there were 9 firefighter line of duty deaths and 8 of them were due to health reasons. This is unacceptable.

How will you seek to improve your mental and physical health? What are you prepared to do?

Seek Technical & Tactical Proficiency

This is where we must focus on our fire ground strategy and tactics. The 10 percent of what we do. The opportunities to train are out there but many refuse to take advantage. There are great people within the fire service that take much of their free time and money to research not only the "new" and exciting techniques but the very basics of firefighting as well.

When was the last time you took in a training class that wasn't mandatory? When was the last time you decided to learn something new or reinforce what you already know?

My fire service brother Mike Daley recently published an article on Firehouse.com titled: Are you good enough? If our answer to this question is anything other than a resounding "no", I fear that complacency has shown its ugly head yet again.

Are we seeking continuous improvement or are we peeking at our computer screens honing our skills as armchair snipers. Choose to become technically and tactically proficient with learning how to do our jobs safer not tearing others apart because they might have a different perspective of where the destination might be.

How will you seek continuous improvement? What is your destination?

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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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Welcome

Welcome

Welcome

Welcome and thank you for making the decision to seek continuous improvement. It is my goal to help you take your training and skills to the next level with relevant, current, and passionate instruction on all topics fire service related.

This website is dedicated to all those who will not be apologetic for having passion for their service. The "brotherhood" is alive and well, together all we have to do is live within it and share our passion with others.

This website is for informational purposes only and in no way is the information considered to be gospel. I encourage all of you to get involved, pass on knowledge, and leave the fire service in better condition than we found it. Our motivation and attitudes are contagious. We must ensure that ours are worth catching!

If you should have any questions or would like to just talk, please reach out to me. I have an open door to listen, large shoulders to lean on, and thick skin so the negative insurgency has no way in!

Be safe! 

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