“What You Need” Continues

I originally wrote this on Christmas Day.  I was at my place, eating chicken and rice soup.  While I would have liked to be doing other things, I had some sort of head cold.  Knowing that what I really needed to do was to rest, it's certainly not what I would rather have been doing.  This isn't a desire for sympathy; I am making a point.  This action was not an act of selflessness but an act of necessity.

My oldest daughter is sick today, however.  I told her last week we would go geocaching today, and she has been talking about it ever since.  But yesterday she came down with a temperature and today, knowing she's going to have to go to school tomorrow, I'm not so sure we will be out looking for goodies.  This isn't making me very popular, but this isn't a popularity contest.  I'm the dad, the designated adult supervision, just like in my regular job as a Battalion Chief.

While in both situations this local crud is the topic d'jour, the whole point in even bringing this up is that I have a decision to make.  In one case it is for my benefit, in another, for someone else's. A conscious decision has been made on what must be done, the effects of the actions on others must be considered, and tough choices must be made.  I agree its a miserable way to spend your Christmas or a weekend, but its part of the situation I have to deal with.  I approached the problem using logic, not my emotions.  Hopefully I will be right.

This brings us back to the issue of what we want versus what we need.  It's the age-old debate of resisting temptation to do what we are supposed to be doing.  You know, the difference between doing what feels good at the time and doing what is going to be best for everyone in the end.  And you are going to have to bear with me, as I too am under the influence of cough medicine and other antihistamines, so I'm going to do something stupid.  I am going to wade into the issue of the frat house culture in many fire stations and why it is a bad thing.

Thus, I happen to have grown up in the fire service in a time where the horseplay and the antics were acceptable, so I have my share of "funny" stories.  Lately, none seem to be coming to mind, because frankly, I take a very dim view of that kind of nonsense going on in any of the stations I am responsible for these days, and with good reason.

We can use the business analogy and realize that again, our citizen taxpayer funding base these days also takes a dim view of a bunch of guys pulling jokes on each other while they are being paid good money to be productive.  I think the rationale is that "If I have to be miserable when I am working, so do you."  I don't think being miserable at work is absolutely necessary, but I'm sure it chaps the asses of a few in the community when they think you are more preoccupied in saran-wrapping a toilet than in protecting their loved ones during that 24 hour shift.

Even worse, though, is the negative implications these antics have in the community when they are seen by the public in regard to their trust in your ability to do the job.  And now more than ever, we need the public to trust us: trust us when we tell them they need to evacuate a building, trust us when we tell them we need better equipment, or are defending our budget, and to trust us when we are holding their lives in our hands.

So as hard as it is for some of you to rein in your inner advocate for either side of the issue, let's look at the REAL problem. The issue is that our culture should be one of quiet professionalism rather than juvenile behavior.  In the fire service, one of the issues we need to deal with is recruitment.  Do we want to attract individuals who exhibit questionable judgment and poor self-restraint?  Or those who will serve as pillars of the community?  If we act like we have a frat house mentality, we will attract those very same individuals.

But this post is not meant to suggest a solution to the problem of this behavior directly.  What I want you to do, rather, is to step back from the debate a second and view this situation, as Heifetz and Linsky so eloquently described, from the balcony.  

At some point, I would bet both sides could have agreed that this problem is one we agree on.  We would all like to keep those who can not be trusted to act responsibly off our engines and out of our medics.  This population would include "juveniles", the emotionally fragile, and those who have egotistical reasons for being in the fire and emergency services (because of the "power" they attain).  Each of those scenarios has their own factors we must deal with.

The real issue is that the solutions we seek are not technical in nature; they are very much adaptive issues.  And people with attitudes like those are incapable of utilizing adaptive strategies in handling problems.  The business of public safety requires individuals who can exercise independent decision-making in high-stress situations where their ethics are often put to the test.  And that's just in the station.  It is very easy for the new leader to want to make poor decisions or even just abandon the hard decisions altogether just because they want to remain "part of the gang".  We don't need more of those personalities; we need people who are capable of being grownups and being responsible.  We need real leaders.

The future of this industry requires a better approach to how we do the job.  It requires more than stomping our feet and saying that if we don't get our way, we'll hold our breath until we turn blue.  Trust me, there's more coming on the subject.  And like I told Emma when I gave her a dose of medicine this morning, it's gonna get worse before it gets better.  But yes, I omitted from telling her, you can get so sick by avoiding the medicine that you could, in fact, die.  If we really care about what it is we want to preserve, we need to make some hard choices and be the designated grownups.