Hey guys sorry its long, at the bottom is my Battalion Chief, its for firefighters but everyone can learn from it
It is the Little Things that Matter
HARRY R. CARTER Ph.D., MIFireE
Life is a truly intriguing journey my friends. We are each born, we then grow, mature, live, and then at some point we die. It is really as simple as that. However, sometimes it turns out to be a whole lot more complex than the scenario I have set forth.
How many of you have read my words through the years wherein I exhorted you to take the global view? How many of you have heard me preach the doctrine of strategic planning? I am also fairly certain that you have also seen my descriptions of the need to have a clear-cut vision for your fire department. I truly believe that all of these are critical aspects of running an organization.
However, these theories cover but one aspect of life. This is what I like to call life at the macro level. We study the big picture and then chart a bold course for the future. We then congratulate ourselves at the depth of our wisdom.
Unfortunately, this is not the entire picture. There is much more to the whole picture than the main characters and the broad brushstrokes. I want to suggest to you that it is the little things that matter the most, for they provide the depth, texture, and perspective for life’s picture.
As one famous writer opined, “…the devil is in the details.” Our great ideas will never bear fruit if we fail to recognize and support the people who are doing the little things in our agencies, many times without your thanks or appreciation. Unfortunately we sometimes get hung up at the global level. We are so concerned with being sure we follow the plan that we forget that all of the participants in our race to the plan are separate, individual people.
Our leaders sometimes forget that many, many individual tasks go into making up the global whole to which they are so slavishly devoted. These people ignore the efforts of the people that form such a necessary part of the implementation of the mission, goals, and objectives that are so sanctimoniously tacked to the walls of our fire headquarters.
We must all understand that there are those negatively-oriented leaders who often forget that real, live people are behind those names attached to the magnetic name tags which are so frequently affixed to the personnel roster board on the wall of the fire chief’s office, or on the roll call board whereupon the responses of the department are emblazoned.
Think about it gang. Every day, in fire departments around the world, legions of brave, loyal, and dedicated people are at work doing the business of their fire departments. There are X number of tasks, divided by X number of people. We exist, because the vast overwhelming majority of our folks find their way to the station every day and do their share of the work. We depend upon their continued loyalty and performance to get the job done. By and large these people do not crave attention, or exist solely to preen and posture for credit.
Whether we are career or volunteer has no bearing. We are all given tasks, and then made responsible for their completion. The driver of the engine company in a career department is responsible for the daily completion of the operator’s check sheet for their apparatus. Is this any different than the engineer’s check sheet used by my volunteer fire department in Adelphia?
In both cases, the head of the agency goes forward with the big picture plans for their apparatus fleet, assuming that the apparatus are being inspected on a regular basis and that the appropriate preventive maintenance (PM) is being performed. If your apparatus are being maintained as part of a five, ten, or twenty-year replacement plan, that daily PM is a critical element in the plan.
So each day, when the fluid levels are checked, the tire pressures taken, and the wear and tear on the tires noted, the tenets of the apparatus plan are being fulfilled. The goals are being approached, and the mission is being fulfilled. However, if someone skips a step, then things can go out of whack. Given Mr. Murphy’s Law and his propensity for poor timing, you can bet that if something goes wrong, it will occur at the most inappropriate moment.
So it is in the world of our professional lives. Why stop there my friends. Hopefully each of us lives a life of many parts.
Let us now apply the lesson of the criticality of little things to life outside of the fire service. How many of you would want to live in a world without such things as red roses, fluffy kittens, small children, great music, and the dewy smell of new-mown grass? Not I my friends.
As I sit diligently entering these words into my computer, I am comfortably ensconced in a large, padded seat in a Continental jet, zooming above America in a modern jet aircraft. How many little things are happening right now to insure that my fellow travelers and I reach Indianapolis? I am sure that I couldn’t guess at them all; however I do know that two gentlemen in white shirts and wearing black ties are seated not too many feet from me doing their level best to see that all of us make it to our destination.
There are people somewhere who are monitoring our progress on a radar screen. Then there are the people who readied our aircraft for its journey. The aircraft mechanics play a critical role, as do those who filled the tanks of the jet with fuel. The list goes on and on. The success of the airline is based upon the performance of literally thousands, if not millions, of individual things every day.
In light of all of this, how is it that there are people who believe themselves to be above the rest of us. You know of whom I speak. These are the people who believe that the world would stop on its axis if they but issued the order. These are the people whose storm cloud of self-righteous importance can block out there bright rays of success for us mere mortals. How is it that they can take their place on the pedestal, right up there with the ancient Greek and Roman gods?
Where do people like this get the idea that they are so all-fired important? I would be willing to bet a handsome sum of money that they achieved their “greatness” on the backs of a lot of fine people whom they trampled in the dust on their way up the ladder of success. The part of the equation which these folks forget is that they will eventually meet the same folks they stepped on as they slide down the far side of the ladder of success.
I am sure that you know who I am talking about. Given the number of emails I receive each week, and the level of frustration evidenced within their contents, I can only guess that the world is populated by far too many people who fail to take the time to pay attention to the little things in life. These are the people for whom the words “thank” and “you” never come together. These words turn to dust within the mouths and minds of these mealy-mouthed mopes. They never end up seeing the light of day.
During my time as a battalion chief in the Newark, New Jersey Fire Department, I always took the time to work with the people placed in my charge. My success or failure was in the hands of those good men. I am sure that there was more that I could have done, but I always tried to put them first. We worked and trained as a team, and I sure hope that I said thank you often enough. I learned many important lessons about leading people.
I try to pass these lessons along to the generations that follow. I now see that as my lot in life. One great example of my good fortune includes a really neat guy by the name of Steve White. Steve is a buddy of mine who labors in the emergency service vineyards of the Fishers, Indiana Fire Department. He is a Battalion Chief who has command of an entire shift. I have been fortunate enough to have been asked to work as a training consultant for his department, which is located not far from Indianapolis.
A few years back, Steve and I were talking out in front the E-One fire apparatus display at the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference in Indianapolis. He and I were sharing some thoughts on his role as a newly-promoted battalion chief. At some point, we were joined by a small group of uniformed firefighters from his department.
Steve proceeded to introduce them by stating quite boldly that these were some of the troops in Fishers who work, “…for me.” Seeing the chance to make a point, bust a few chops, and perhaps create an actual learning experience, I made the following brusque comment. “Did you hear what he just said guys? He said that you work for him. My guys in Newark work with me. What’s up with that?”
Even in that crowded convention hall, you could have heard a pin drop within 20 feet of our location. Steve was absolutely dumbfounded. Given his earlier statements about how much he loved his guys and how humbled he was to be a battalion chief, I knew that he would take my words to heart. I also thought that he probably would pick up very quickly on my point.
Rest assured that he worked overtime to become a good chief. It is not always easy to balance the demands of the local government, the boss, and the troops, but Steve has worked really hard at doing his best for each of the competing demands for his time and talents. He has told me of his concern for his people.
Steve has come to understand that the old story about many hands making the work light is true indeed. He has created a team, and that team knows the mission, goals, and objectives. They are getting better by the day.
He has shown a true appreciation for the little things in his life. As much as he loves his people and his department, all of that pales into proper perspectives when he speaks of his wife and children. He is working hard to balance the competing demands of his life, while still taking time to smell the roses.
As a matter of fact, part of his annual “smell the roses” festival includes a trip back to his home state of New Jersey. Go figure. A Jersey boy transplanted to the Midwest. However, he has taken the small things and made them a big part of his life.
What then can you do to begin nurturing the small things in the life of your fire? I would suggest that you do a couple of things:
- Keep your eyes open – You cannot see if you are not looking
- Say the words “thank” and “you” a great deal more
- Be supportive of people who want to do more
- Remember what it was like to be young and enthusiastic
- Be there for your troops
- NEVER FORGET WHERE YOU CAME FROM
Remember my friends that life is really a series of little things strung together in a variety of interesting ways. Some may seem bigger and more challenging, but it is usually the little things that give us the greatest satisfaction. Where then would we be without the simple things in life?
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