Most volunteer fire stations have one. You know that one guy? He’s usually found wearing EMS uniform pants with trauma sheers, maybe a roll of medical tape, sporting a fire t-shirt while strolling Walmart’s auto section. He’s equipped with a duty-belt containing a mounted medical glove pouch, CPR mask key-chain, several Minitor pagers, a scanner, mini-Maglite, rescue knife with window punch and… you get the picture. He’s a walking Fire Store catalog.
He’s, sometimes, known to spout off NFPA codes, fire truck specifications, pump calculations and he knows everything there is to know about fighting fires and saving lives. But it’s likely this guy has done little of either. I know you’re aware of the type. This guy is lovingly, and ill-fatedly referred to as Ricky Rescue but may also answer to “Whacker,” “Yahoo,” and the transverse “Rescue Ricky.”
Believe it or not, it takes a special person to be Ricky Rescue. It’s not for everyone, but they fill an important void among people of our kind. Ricky Rescue is usually young and a little green with an over-enthusiastic affinity for firefighting. Ricky possesses the kind of enthusiasm we wish all of our firefighters had for the job but yet he lacks the humbleness of not flaunting the image and ultimately causing eye rolls. Ricky Rescue strongly values the public’s ability to immediately recognize him as a firefighter, and not just any firefighter…the best firefighter there ever was.
There is a sad psychological story that is playing out in the life and mind of Ricky Rescue, and perhaps I’ll cover that in a Part II, but for now… What do we do with him?
I’ve witnessed several of these characters throughout my career, and I’ve noticed avoidance among officer’s to manage these folks. Most leadership tactics I’ve witnessed involve suppressing these individuals, poking fun at them, holding them back from doing things, ignoring them, and basically trying to make them go away. Let’s face it, more often than not Ricky Rescue’s energy level is higher than most people can tolerate.
The short answer is to lean into them instead of shying away. Ricky Rescue needs a patient mentor, but one who will give him a long leash. Ricky Rescue has loads of enthusiasm, spirit, and energy so why not put that to good use? Giving Ricky individual tasks such as polishing everything or simple fire service research may not be enough. Task Ricky Rescue to the hilt. Give him a project or make him responsible for something and see what he does with it. I’m willing to bet Ricky will surprise you. You could make Ricky in charge of chrome, or have him research new extrication tools and present his findings. Ricky would probably love to update the district maps and is dying to help you organize your filing cabinet. If your inbox is stacked with things that can be outsourced why not give them to Ricky. If his product isn’t good enough to use, then coach him a little or don’t use it at all. Would you like to start plugging away at NFPA 1500, Ricky?
I know what you may be thinking here. “This is pretty cruel.” But I know from experience this method is a win-win. A Ricky Rescue needs to be kept busy. The busier he is, the less trouble he is causing or, the less he is annoying everyone. This works because Ricky gets to be a part of the successful operation of the fire department by actually having responsibility. It’s likely that nobody has ever trusted him with anything. This leadership tactic will help Ricky mature as well as fill him with a sense of much needed prideful satisfaction in that he’s actually helping. Ricky will be so elated about being a part of the operation that he wouldn’t dare give you anything less than his best.
Bear in mind, this tactic only works with a long leash. Give him a project and a brief explanation of what you want the outcome to look like and let him run with it. Allow Ricky to work through the particulars in his own way, you’ll be less frustrated, and he will feel like he’s trusted.
There are a few Ricky Rescues that are merely in it for the T-Shirt. These folks will give themselves away pretty quick. If the work your Ricky Rescue is giving you happens to be less than acceptable or he is slacking, perhaps you have a dud. A dud Ricky Rescue takes a lot of work, and in the end, you can only polish a turd so much.
All-in-all Ricky Rescue needs strong coaching, mentoring, and peer assistance. Turning your Ricky Rescue into a useful member of your department is a thoughtful process and one that takes a little planning but in the end, it’s worth it!