I was giving Zach Green from MN8 Foxfire a tour of our department when I got a call from Lt. C down at Station 7. There is some construction going on next door to the station. The landscape contractors brought in some trees to be planted; in one of them, a nest had been built. Two baby birds were subsequently dropped onto the burgeoning garden forming in the shadow of the new cell phone tower.
What do people do when they have a problem they can't readily solve? They call the fire department. Since a fire station happened to be right next door, the contractors brought the helpless creatures to Engine 7's house.
Armed with their extraordinary problem solving skills, the crew came up with the right answer. They called a vet to get some advice and found that one was willing to take the birds in for us. The call to me was for advice as to how they could carry out their plan, since the vet was in Bluffton, outside of our jurisdiction. I told them to manage with what they had and to let me think about how to make things work out. I was returning to my office at Station 7 anyway and told them I'd talk to them in person shortly.
When I arrived, the guys were huddled around their little project at the watch desk, feeding the birds worms. They had a syringe and a catheter and were dripping warm milk gently into the two tiny birds mouths. And they had a hot pack under a warm towel keeping the birds comfortable. Solutions like these don't come readily to people who aren't engaged in their jobs. These three firefighters, three guys who I wouldn't describe as "huggy", were tending these infant birds with all the gentleness of my 11 year old daughter, with real concern for their outcome.
Was it their job to do this? No. Was it a challenge, especially since they didn't know what to do? Yes. Did it fall into the scope of our mission? No, but it was the right thing to do.
There are those who would argue that our resources are better spent elsewhere. They might say that we have a responsibility to the community to provide fire and EMS coverage and this was detracting us from that responsibility. I would argue that this was not the case. I would also argue that the ability for our people to show compassion for even the most helpless of beings demonstrates to me a willingness to do the job we are charged with doing, while sharing our organizational values.
Transactional leadership has no place here. What benefit did they get from these efforts? What tangible bonus came as a result of taking in these birds? There was none. These firefighters did these things because they care. And caring is an extraordinarily important part of leading altruistically.
Our organization has established integrity as one of our principal values. Some describe integrity as the desire to do the right thing even when nobody is watching. It would have been very easy to just get rid of these birds in the dumpster, or to tell the contractor it wasn't our job, or to tell them that they needed to call Animal Control, or any one of a number of excuses people can make for not doing what is right. I wasn't around, I never would have known. But that isn't the way we operate around here. Our leaders, almost to a man, can be trusted to make good decisions even when they aren't popular or convenient or in the job description. They know what we expect, they understand our shared values, and they set the example of leadership by demonstrating these values in their daily actions.
What examples of leadership tell you a person cares even when it hurts? Can you look at yourself or at other leaders and say that the organizational value of integrity is continually upheld? When people act with integrity, it is often because their leaders have demonstrated their own insistence on acting with integrity. When leaders don't demonstrate these values, the troops say, "Who cares?" Of all the values an organization holds, it is the ones that the followers see their leaders demonstrating that they place importance on. If you don't act like it means anything, you shouldn't be surprised if the troops don't feel the same way as well.