by Dr. Lindsay Judah CFO, CTO
This question was posed to me and I recall when initially joining as a career firefighter, our Fire Chief stood in front of our hiring class asking us to remember how we felt in that moment. She encouraged us to capture those feelings and shared that along our career journey, we may need to reflect on how proud we felt and remember why we took the oath to serve and protect. I have reflected on that moment numerous times.
I have felt most grounded when reflecting on my personal values and leadership principles, looking in the mirror and knowing what I will/will not stand for. I believe another important consideration is to reflect on the mission, vision, and values of the organization. Tying day-to-day operations back to the direction of the organization can help influence our mindset. The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, discusses the potential of success when utilizing an infinite mindset, “Collaborating with others, around a shared purpose, builds a better resourced, and more caring world.”
A benefit to aligning our actions and mindset to the organization’s direction is maintaining a pulse of where we’re collectively headed. In our ever-evolving industry, this is essential. While I understand some firefighters are not involved with patient care, this is becoming rare, at least where I am most familiar, in the State of Florida. I believe maintaining our love for the job requires an agile approach, an understanding that advancement, development, and shifts in our service delivery are dynamic and ongoing.
From a broader perspective, it is essential that our industry remains relevant and strives to meet the needs of our respective communities. Relevancy is often associated with funding approval and municipal support. There are several ways to increase awareness and involvement which may lend toward our goal of maintaining our love for the job. Many states have city and county management associations, as well as the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). For example, Florida City and County Management Association (FCCMA) offers opportunities to connect with city and county administrators, as well as podcasts, scholarships, and webinars. Becoming a member is inexpensive and student membership is available. Additional involvement along this approach includes attending local council, neighborhood, and/or volunteer association meetings. Consider participating in opportunities such as Habitat for Humanity®, Meals on Wheels, or Paint Your Heart Out. These can be individual endeavors, however they can also offer teambuilding with a crew, station or organization-level involvement. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Leadership programs and interoperability within your department
Actively participating in local government and learning more about different activities and processes can be enlightening. Acquiring a greater insight can aid in a clearer understanding of interoperability between different departments within a city/county, as well as a more focused sense of competing demands within the EMS & Fire agencies. Some city/county agencies offer local leadership programs which provide a curriculum with interactive opportunities for discussion, networking, and identifying available resources. As shared in a 2022 ICMA article, “Political acumen requires situational knowledge across a diversity of municipal landscapes.”
Another area of involvement firefighters often find rewarding is supporting initiatives with their Local. The International Association of Fire Fighters was founded in 1918 on the premise to, “decide the salary of officers, set commons goals to live and work with dignity, with care for their safety and concern for their families.” Union participation often includes local and state, community and government interactions, such as gatherings on the hill, or at the Capitol. IAFF may partner with a Local and offer hands-on training, such as Fire Ground Survival. This is an exceptional course in which instructors recognize and refer to NIOSH LODD incidents.
How can we renew our love for our job?
Maintaining our love for the job may require looking outside of your organization and surrounding yourself with others who love the job. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your peers or those you work alongside don’t love the job, it may just mean that they’re in a different season of their career or are addressing familial needs which can take away from their capacity to connect. There are numerous opportunities to participate at the local, state, and national levels. A few examples include applying to participate on an IFSTA textbook validation committee or NFPA technical committee, applying for CPSE credentialing, attending conferences (many offer scholarships), developing/participating on a competition team such as ALS/BLS, extrication or rapid intervention, participating as an Everyone Goes Home® advocate, pursing certification, higher education, and fellowships, responding to inquiries on the IAFC KnowledgeNet forum and submitting to NIST innovation prize challenges.
Additional areas which may allow for firefighter contributions include applying to attend and/or teach at the National Fire Academy, connecting with a local F.O.O.L.S chapter, collaborating with fellow firefighters and delivering training, engaging with local colleges/universities for research partnerships, listening to and offering to share on EMS and Fire podcasts, reviewing Instagram accounts which provide knowledgeable content such as @chiefnormanfdny, @cmcpro_official, @dragonrescuemanagement, submitting articles to a variety of industry magazines, and training for special operations teams such as Hazmat, SWAT Medic, USAR and UAV programs.
Mentorship within your organization
Within the organization, it is important to remember that as much as you may want mentorship and leadership, there is likely personnel watching you and wanting to learn more from you. There is an opportunity for those who love the job, to pass it on. Spend time with those around you and share what has worked for you and what may work for them to succeed and to enjoy the job. Partake in fitness activities each shift, play pickleball, and consider wearing a weight vest for workouts instead of bunker gear which may contain carcinogenic materials. Train in the apparatus bay, perform EMS scenarios and review protocols, practice radio communications, and try to complete these activities after or during fitness, when you have an elevated heart rate. Combining activities can optimize your time, and mimic stressors that you may not feel if you’re simply reviewing a protocol at the kitchen table.
Many aspects of the job require intentionality.
Are there areas of the organization that you can contribute based on your experiences, interests and/or talents? What about creating art for station challenge coins/patches/shirts, completing territory familiarization (NFFF LA City example), drafting/reviewing a policy, offering to work on a special project such as Community Risk Reduction, sharing CDC STEADI fall prevention information or reviewing Vision 20/20 or VCOS Yellow Ribbon Report content, participating on a committee, such as work toward a strategic plan, producing preplans for target hazards in your response area, or writing a grant proposal. In Chess Not Checkers, Mark Miller states, “Never underestimate the power of those on the frontlines doing the work.” I agree with this sentiment, I also believe that our frontline personnel often have great ideas which may make aspects of the job easier and safer.
How do you fill your cup?
In Daniel Coyle’s book, The Culture Code, he emphasizes “fill their cup”. In leadership, either formal or informal we have an opportunity to fill their cup; to meet firefighters where they’re at and give them what they need. Belongingness and support are essential and can come from intentionally cultivated relationships outside of the organization. However, I encourage everyone to try to continuously look within. I mean that literally, within us, but also within the organization. Sometimes positive change requires years of effort and sometimes it requires a new environment. As shared in Bet On You by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch, “We need to recognize winning for what it is – an inside game.”
Three takeaways on maintaining our love for the job: Develop healthy habits, focus on the things which are most important to you, and strive for excellence in work and life. “Be Nice.” -Chief Brunacini
Lindsay Judah, DPA, CFO, CTO currently serves as a consultant and previously served as a District Chief in Florida. She’s also an adjunct professor and alumna of Valdosta State University, teaching courses in Organizational Leadership and Public Administration. Her doctoral research focused on implementing innovation in the fire service, specifically UAV programs. She is an Everyone Goes Home® Advocate, serves on the Awards and Scholarship Committee for the Florida City and County Management Association and the IFSTA Validation Committee for Chief Officer 5th ed.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any organization.
Coyle, D. (2018). The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Retrieved from: https://danielcoyle.com/the-culture-code/
Goodine, J. (2022). What is Political Acumen? Retrieved from: https://icma.org/articles/article/what-political-acumen#:~:text=Political%20acumen%20is%20not%20any,to%20be%20acquired%20and%20practiced
IAFF. (2023). IAFF History. Retrieved from: https://history.iaff.org/
Miller, M. (2015). Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game. Retrieved from: https://tmarkmiller.com/product/chess-not-checkers/
Morgan, A. & Lynch, C. (2022). Bet On You: How to Win with Risk. Retrieved from: https://leadstar.us/bet-on-you-book/
Sinek, S. (2019). The Infinite Game. Retrieved from: https://simonsinek.com/books/the-infinite-game/
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