How White Is Your Shirt?
By G. Rice
Those who I work for expect daily that I train, develop, mentor and lead our firefighters. They are a tough bunch to work for. They have some of the highest expectations and constantly watch every move I make. I feel supported in my position and receive the necessary feedback to change my approach or position on any given topic.
Many would think I am speaking about my Assistant Chief of Operations or even possibly my Fire Chief, but I am speaking about the men of my Battalion. It’s important to understand this distinction because I believe we BC’s often lose sight of this. We exist for our men.
I’ve been working for just over a year as a Battalion Chief. My wife recently commented that my white shirts are looking dingy. I already knew this fact. It’s extremely difficult to train with my crews stretching hose, throwing ladders and participating in search drills while wearing these. I’ve smoked many a white shirt and recently spoke with my boss to ask about alternatives. He told me to keep smoking them and that they would buy me new ones this year. That is very reassuring. Not that they will buy new shirts, but affirming that training, sweating alongside my men is where he wants me.
I’m not naive to think that everyone reading this has a similar work environment. Many do not have support both above and below to be successful. So how do we create an environment where these types of attitudes will flourish?
It starts with us, BC’s. I’ve got to ask, when was the last time you PT’d with your men? When was the last time you flowed a line or threw a 24′ ladder? How about performed a search or participated in a Job Task Simulation. How often do you provide feedback, direction, or kudos to those you work for?
I’m calling out BC’s everywhere to ask for you to lead by example. Do you mask up daily and check over your air pack? Do you even have an air pack in the car? How about we start getting out of the car to sweat alongside our men? You know how I know they need a water break? Because I need one. It’s pretty simple. Do we expect our folks to be in gear but find us walking around an accident scene in sunglasses and a vest? Lead by example. It’s really very simple.
It boils down to accountability. We expect it from our company officers but are we being accountable to them? Do we put our officers in a bad way having to field questions about the BC who isn’t geared up? Do as I say, not as I do?
I’ll be attending Nozzle Forward training this November in Houston. This will be my third time through Aaron and his cadre. These guys are smart. Aaron gets it. He often speaks about a movement bubbling up from the bottom. It’s my job to assist my guys who are doing the same within our department. How many “Aaron’s” are in my department? Am I helping each member reach their full potential?
I know I have much to learn. In fact, I know this with every bone in my body. If I do my job correctly, many of my people won’t be working for me as we grow. They’ll be Engineers, Captains and possibly colleagues alongside me. I hope I can keep up with these guys. I hope I can remain relevant in our profession.
So put down your TPS reports and get out with the men. The reports and paperwork will be there when you’re done. Support their careers, mentor and lead.
The Colony Fire Dept
The Colony, Texas
Battalion Chief Garrett Rice
Outstanding! Thanks Chief Rice for taking care of the guys and leading from the front. We are better because of you…
This is an excellent article. It is great to see leaders like yourself empowering others to lead with this mentality. My only suggestion to empower you to be an even stronger leader is to write your article to include the women firefighters. When you say “We exist for our men,” and “Get out with the men,” it is demoralizing to the women and does not support their career. Thank you Sir for putting yourself and thoughts out there.
Well I think that great you participate Chief. But I assume you trained and participted in PT through all the ranks you have promoted to. I’m wondering why do you to prove yourself all over again. I myself am a battalion chief in fact in the training division. As a battalion chief It’s been my experience that participating and doing what your expect others to do does not create a movement or motivation.’ Aaron Fields is right change comes from the bottom. Support people yes, train to stay competent of course. Training to impress the nonimpressionable lost cause.
I was a firefighter prior to 9.11 and left the fire service to join the military…spent 12 years in Army SF being led by some of the best men the US military has to offer. The Lieutenant Colonels (Batt Cmdr) and Group Cmdrs (full bird Colonel) would do PT with the guys, go on missions with the guys in the sandbox, and grapple/fight with the guys on combative days because our leaders know the importance of the men seeing them do what they are expecting of the men. Instead of stating the standard, they set the example.
If anyone thinks this is about a BC having “to prove yourself all over again” you have completely missed the boat. This is about the men seeing that the BC doesn’t think himself too good to get dirty, too important to be in the fight, too haughty to be with the men. It is about leading from the front, not demanding respect from the rear. As an officer I wish my BC was out with the guys from time to time so I don’t have to field questions about the BC being fat while telling the men how important it is to be fit (double standard) or the importance of wearing PPE while he walks around in shorts and polo shirt. Leadership…
BC Rice, I congratulate you for believing in leadership by example. I was a volunteer firefighter/EMT/hazmat specialist for nearly 40 years, and in several states. I also had the privilege of being a command officer with one department or another from 1992 to 2016. I started in a small, suburban department with one station and 3 trucks, then served in both large and small departments as my paid career in a large business brought me to new locations. Those experiences taught me many things about leadership, but primarily this: true leaders “walk the talk.” It is essential for all fire and other emergency service officers, even the chief(s), to train alongside their firefighters because leadership by example enables firefighters have greater confidence in the orders they are given on scene, and better understanding of why they are given. Officers that recurrently train in that manner have their best opportunity to see what is and isn’t working, understand why that’s happening (assuming the department “practices as it plays”), and make the most appropriate adjustments. While doing so, I often learned a new tactic or perspective that provided an opportunity for personal or departmental improvement and growth (active learning should never stop). It is true that the chief(s) of a large department may be unable to train in that manner. However, that should not stop those officers from frequently leaving the “ivory tower,” having meaningful interaction with personnel at all levels of their department, and taking a critical look at how their department is and is not performing. Such principles are not limited to the fire or emergency services; they have been successfully applied in business for many years.
Fantastic. The writer talking to those people that Leads.
Keep getting after it Chief!