For years, I would see the slogan, "The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare For It," posted on the wall of the Henderson, NC, Fire Department training classroom.
Chief Danny Wilkerson used to say these same words to many of the young firefighters and officers who walked into that room. As an instructor and a part-time member of that department, it always struck me as an encouragement to continue to push to make a difference. Often times I personally struggled with just what that slogan was saying.
Well, for the first time as I write this article, it has become crystal clear. The entire slogan was driven home with just one e-mail blast from a great fire service colleague - Deputy Chief Billy Golfeder with his most recent Secret List publication. Below is some of it.
"Sometimes....not everyone goes home.
In the discussions, one of the young firefighters who was involved with the rescue told me that he now hated the term "everyone goes home" because, obviously, Kevin did not. It made me start to think. Was the slogan a problem?
It has nothing to do with a slogan. The slogan "Everyone Goes Home" is an attitude...an attitude within a fire department that we'll do all we can to try and bring all of our firefighters home. It was and still is an attitude. Some of the younger firefighters understandably, just didn't get it at the time.
- It means that if we don't drive like idiots, we'll probably make it home.
- It means if we follow standards such as NFPA 1403, firefighter trainees will probably make it home.
- It means if we put our seat belts on and we collide on the way to a fire, we'll probably make it home.
- It means if we weigh 100 lbs too much, and we eat more salads, we'll probably make it home.
- It means that if it is obvious the building will collapse and we stay out of the way, we'll probably make it home.
- It means if we have the right amount of trained staffing and good bosses at a fire, we'll probably make it home.
- .....and it means that if we drill and train on the stuff we need to do regularly, such as the ability to quickly get water on the fire, we'll probably make it home."
The above excerpt really drives me to focus on the topic "What Do These Bugles Really Mean?"
We, as leaders today, will face the end of our careers. Many of my mentors are at that point currently. However, the leadership lessons they can still share are countless. Thank God, that these folks took an interest in us, the leaders of the current fire service, when we were youthful firefighters.
As I look over the fire service today, I can see that our fields are full of ripe future leaders just waiting to be harvested. Consequently, we often scorn at the work ethic or analytical decision making that these individuals use as they make critical decisions.
I can see clearly where my first mentors --Jerry Green and Rick Rice, Mullens, WV --could see a ripening prospect as they made extra efforts to shape the future. As I see it, the old practice of using our youth to accomplish our work is the base preparation needed to make them tomorrow's leader.
So, where do we start this development process? We start by not accepting anything less than the best in everything we do. Even further, we need to teach and share with our youth our experiences, even the ones that were not victories.
Albert Einstein never viewed any unsuccessful attempt as a failure, rather a win in knowing one more way that didn't work. These experiences will carry lifelong lessons learned.
Today, I frequently find myself referring to situations, problems, successes and lessons learned as it relates to similar issues they are facing as I mentor to younger fire service members. My father used to call this the "school of hard knocks education of life." But today many fire officers never take time to share, mentor and teach our future leaders.