Move with a purpose.

There is a quote that says, “a truly great mentor is hard to find, difficult to part with, and impossible to forget.”

One of those men is LT. Tony McLain.

From day one of my fire academy, I was blessed with great instructors. Each in their own way, representing what I want to be as a fireman. They worked hard, had a sense of humor, cared a lot about the guy standing next to them, and most importantly the public they served. They didn’t care about recognition and didn’t think they were anything special. They are just a group of firemen that love the job, and want to pass on as much as they know to the next generation. A handful of them became more than just instructors, but mentors, and Tony was one of them. From his constant repeat of “and things like that” while giving a lecture, to walking around yelling “gasket” every time we reloaded hose, to jokes about me showing up the guys; working with and learning from him was a never-ending source of education and entertainment. He had a way of giving you crap one minute, and teaching you an important lesson the next. He took the job seriously, and expected you to do the same. Work hard, but have fun when you were done.

Honestly, I credit a huge part of why I’m on the job today to him. I was at the tail end of my fire academy, and had the opportunity to apply to my department. I knew I wanted to be on the job, but I wasn’t convinced I was ready. I voiced these and other concerns to him one night after class. I don’t remember the exact words he said, but it was something along the lines of quit doubting yourself, you’re ready. Hearing someone I respected as much as him tell me they had faith in my abilities as a fireman gave me the courage I needed to apply. A year later when the offer finally came, I needed a little nudge from another mentor to take the plunge and accept the offer…but I wouldn’t have even tried if it wasn’t for Tony.

On the fireground you would frequently hear Tony say, “move with a purpose.” And you knew that meant you better get your ass in gear. He didn’t meant run around like an idiot, but to move quickly and efficiently. Do the job you were trained to do, the right way, no shortcuts. You knew if he was saying it, he expected more from you. I’m a big fan of quotes and I came to love what he said. I have no idea if he meant it as more than just a motivator to get moving on the fireground, but I began to model my life after that quote. I still try to live by that saying every single day, in all that I do.

“Move with a purpose” became a life motto, a reminder of a good fireman, and a way to stay focused. Is what you’re doing right now helping you to accomplish your goals? Are you doing something everyday to make yourself a better fireman, a better person? Are you putting the citizens you serve before yourself? Are you focusing on making things better, or wrapped up in the things you can’t control? Are you eating healthy and staying physically fit so you’re stronger on the fireground tomorrow? Is what you’re doing right now helping you continue to earn the title of “firefighter for the city of xxx”? Are you regularly doing relevant and realistic training? Tony’s mantra became more than just something to yell at the guys standing around on the fireground, but a central part of my everyday life.

On November 21st, 2018 the world lost a great fireman, mentor, brother, and more importantly husband and father. It’s still hard to believe that I can’t walk into his office and get some joke about my relatives or showing up the guys. I do know for certain that the world lost an entertaining, knowledgeable, caring, and passionate individual. He was a great fireman and an excellent teacher. I am extremely grateful to his family for sharing him with the fire service, and in supporting him spending his free time teaching the next generation of firemen like myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the opportunity to tell him this when I had the chance. So if you do nothing else today, tell your mentors thank you, and how much you appreciate all that they’ve done for you.

I had hoped to be able to work with and learn more from him in the future, however I am forever thankful for the time I had learning from him. We are all better for having known him.

If one day I am half the instructor and mentor to future firemen as he was to me, I will call it a success.

Until then, I’ll keep moving with a purpose.

RIP LT.

 

Time, reps, and a whole lot of sweat.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that for me just “doing the job” is not enough. I’d say at bare minimum I want to be competent, but minimum standards are a trip hazard. I want to put in the work to be a “good” fireman one day. Someone that can help pass on everything taught to me, to the next generation. There is only one path to get there. That’s time, reps, and a whole lot of sweat.

There’s obviously only one way to get the time, and that is to put in the years on the job. But what better way to put in the reps and sweat than investing your time in training with humble and hardworking firefighters. Personally, there is absolutely nothing more motivating or clarifying than spending time with other like minded individuals. Having the opportunity to listen to, train with, and learn from some of the most talented firefighters in the industry is an opportunity I’m not going to pass up.

This weekend I was able to fit in a quick trip to New York to the First Due Training Conference. (If you didn’t go, you missed out and should go next year.) It was yet another incredible training experience. The conference offered both lectures, and hands on. After the first day was a Tactics on Tap discussion, which if you don’t know what that is, is a bunch of firemen sitting around telling stories. Most of which are hilarious. For the hands on portion, I took the Truck class, and the group of instructors was one of, if not the best, I have had. Everyone was knowledgeable, and answered every student’s question with tricks they’ve learned from their experiences. They took time to work with each individual student, showing them various techniques, and gave specific suggestions on how to keep improving. They also gave advice on how to implement the training and props at your own department. The class was essentially divided into three parts: rotating skill stations, exploring the city and talking ladder placement, and several evolutions of live fire.

I’ve learned a lot from attending trainings and conferences over the last several years, and some of the best stuff I’ve learned has come from simply listening to people talk. If quality training from high caliber instructors isn’t enough reason for you to get outside of your department, below are a few of the other benefits I have found from them:

Mentors.

    I’ve talked a lot about this before, because I think it’s so important to your career; but find yourself quality mentors. I would without a doubt, not be where I am today without mine. The experience they have is invaluable, and they are the kind of fireman I aspire to be one day.
    A good mentor is willing to give you their honest opinion based on their experiences, and can be a voice of reason when you need it. However, if you’re going to request their time, you need to be willing to consider what they’re saying, even if it’s not something you necessarily wanted to hear. You never know who you may meet at a conference that would be willing to mentor you during your career.

Networking.

    Now, I don’t mean walking up to every “big name” you see on the or going on a Facebook friend request rampage and asking them to be your friend. I mean making quality connections. Find like minded firefighters from other departments in your area, or even across the country. Firefighters that you would want on your truck with you.
    It will never cease to fascinate me how different firefighting is across the country, yet departments have many of the same personality types or morale issues. I’m a firm believer there is something to be learned from everyone. Take the time to ask people questions, and really listen to their answers. Doing this has made a huge difference in my career.
    I’ve been fortunate enough to make some great connections literally across the country, many of these people I would never had met if I hadn’t attended these types of courses.

Friendships.

    Some of my best friends have come from Twitter and/or various conferences. Find people who are invested in the job, and who are constantly trying to better themselves. Find people who won’t sugar coat the truth for you, and who you can count on to help you keep moving forward when it feels like you’re knee deep in the mud.
    When I’m annoyed that I’m struggling with a certain technique or learning a new skill, one person will say, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” …not that it makes me feel better but it is true, and it’s the clarity I need to focus. Essentially, you didn’t know it, you know now, move on.
    And if all I’m doing is venting about a problem they’ll also tell me to “quit complaining and fix the problem, and if you can’t fix the problem, then it’s not your problem so quit complaining.” As you can imagine, both of those statements can be infuriating when you’re in the middle of a rant. It’s basically like saying “shut up and keep working, you’ll get there eventually.” As mad as I get in the moment, that is exactly the kind of person you need, or at least I need.
    I need someone who knows when to let me vent, but also isn’t afraid to call me out on my crap and keep my head straight when I feel frustrated and lose perspective. These are the people that are going to essentially say, “what the *$%#? are you doing?” If they think you’re getting off track of your goals. These are the people you can call or text at 2am when you get back from a fire to hash out how to make the next one go better. And who are as excited to talk about the job as you are.

Shattering comfort zones.

    Traveling to conferences forces you out of your comfort zone. When I first started I was quiet (still am, I prefer to listen), and terrified of looking like an idiot in class. This resulted in not asking many questions, to the point that sometimes I would leave confused, with no one to blame but myself.
    Now I don’t care, in order to be effective I need the answer, and the only way I’ll get it is to ask. No one wants to look incompetent, but I’m no longer afraid to learn. Instead I’m afraid of doing something wrong my entire career.
    Take classes on topics you’re not confident in. Get out of your comfort zone in class, it can be a humbling experience, but it shows you exactly what you need to work on. If you only attend classes on skills you do frequently, say fire attack or EMS, you’ll never get better.

In my opinion, you have no excuse to not want to learn, except laziness. And there are small conferences and trainings popping up across the country making it easier than ever to learn. I’m fortunate my department is supportive of me wanting to travel and learn. I’ve found this is the best way to keep myself focused and pushing forward. If nothing else, I want to listen to firemen tell stories. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

As always, move with a purpose.

Photo cred: Chief Woolery

Mentors

Mentors

The Oxford dictionary defines a mentor as an “experienced and trusted advisor.”

Bob Proctor says a mentor is “someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you.”

I think it’s important to constantly evaluate yourself: are you pushing yourself everyday to be a better person, are you improving your improving basic skills, and learning new things? Having good mentors can help you continue to take steps to improve yourself, and they’re willing to call you out if you get off track. I firmly believe these people are the key to your success in the fire service.

With that being said, you want to be careful who you look up to and ask for guidance. With social media everyone likes to talk these days, so make sure who you’re listening to is worth it.

Things I look for in a mentor:

⁃ Easy to talk with

⁃ Trustworthy

⁃ Compassionate

⁃ Hard working

⁃ Driven

⁃ Honest

⁃ Experienced (in life and in firefighting)

⁃ Knowledgeable

⁃ Morals/Values that align with mine

Good mentors are impossible to replace and don’t necessarily have to all be from your department. I believe you need three types of mentors. (If you’re lucky like me you’ll have more than one of each).

1. The department mentor. This person should obviously have more experience than you, and be someone worth looking up to. What I mean by this isn’t necessarily that they’ve won the most awards or had the most promotions; but they have a strong work ethic, are willing to teach, and are always working to find ways to improve themselves and the department. You should be able to trust that when you talk to them (unless it’s something they would have to report) that what you say will stay between the two of you. This is the person you turn to to when you have specific questions about your department- whether it be about how a call was handled, a training question, or when you’re unsure of how to handle various situations specific to your shifts.

2. Someone that is similar to you. (Does not necessarily have to be from your department.) This similarity could be in rank, such as if you’re both Lieutenants. Or a common specialization such as in Hazmat or EMS; if you’re a female, another female, etc. Someone that is able to more closely understand your situation. They are able to offer guidance in a way that takes into consideration your specific needs that someone without that similarity may not be able to.

3. Someone experienced outside of your department. In my opinion I believe this is the most important person for two reasons. One, if you only have mentors in your department they may not be able to see the situation outside of personal biases. The second reason is that if your only mentor is promoted to your supervisor, it may make future conversations difficult as they would have to separate being your boss from giving you unbiased advice. Again, this person should be easy to talk to, open with their personal experiences, and someone you can trust that what you say will stay in confidence. This person needs to be in your corner, but you also have to be able to trust that this person will call you on your crap if you need it.

When you find people who you would like to mentor you- reach out! Ask them if they would be willing to help teach and guide you in your career. Every few months ask them to meet for a cup of coffee or go visit them at their station. These meetings don’t have to be long, but they allow you to discuss how your career is going, and to get fresh advice. I think you’ll find most people are more than willing to share what they’ve learned with you if you just ask. I promise you, you will learn more than you can ever imagine, and it isn’t necessarily all about firefighting.

And one day, if you do it right, soaking up everything you can from the generations before us, you’ll become worth being a mentor to someone else. But you have to put in a lot of work first, and you better be willing to shut up and listen today.

I am beyond lucky to have the mentors I do, I firmly believe I would not be where I am today without them. They have pushed me to apply for the job at my department when I was unsure if I was ready, guided me when I’ve come across situations I didn’t know how to handle, and have motivated and pushed me when I was struggling.

Finally, remember to thank all of those who have been a mentor to you. They don’t have to take time out of their lives to teach and guide us, but we’re lucky they do. Express how much it all means to you, because you never know when the last time you’ll get to learn from them will be.

To all those who have been a mentor and friend to me- you know who you are. Thank you, it means more to me than you’ll ever know.