“Firemen are going to get killed. When they join the department they face that fact. When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work. They were not thinking of getting killed when they went where death lurked. They went there to put the fire out, and got killed. Firefighters do not regard themselves as heroes because they do what the business requires.” – Chief Edward Croker
This article is a joint venture between two authors that share a similar opinion about a topic that has long been part of the core values of fire service. Kelly Lemmons and Dave LeBlanc both come from extremely different backgrounds but share a common vision of what the job is about and who we are as firefighters.
The Quiet Professional, it is a way of life, an identity that The Long Range Reconnaissance and the Special Forces have embraced throughout their existence. The mantra of this ethos is simple; the mission comes first, group achievement not individual accolades. The quiet professional is humble and reserved. They don’t believe in unearned arrogance. They believe in not sharing or boasting about accomplishments. The quiet professional doesn’t tell their stories unless they are asked, and even then the answer is always about the success of the group and downplay the individual action.
No one is saying you shouldn’t talk about past experiences. The fire service has a long history of training through experience, where firefighters pass on the “lessons learned” to other firefighters. But this isn’t nor should be a “look at me” moment, where you sing your own praises.
The mission always comes first. Service should never be about us. The focus should be mature enough to look past the point of chasing individual accolades or accomplishments. Personal standards should be developed with a consistent message of organizational success over personal gain. In some places the fire service has lost its way on this in recent history, by focusing on our safety over that of the population we serve. Putting ourselves before the mission.
“I am not here for me, I am here for we, and we are here for them.”
reads the quote on the podium in the training room in Anchorage, Alaska.
You must realize that personal accolades and accomplishments are unfulfilling as the impulse purchases of your life. If you can manage this, you will find it incredibly liberating and fulfilling. Ambition, angst, jealousy will fade and with their evaporation you will gain the pride of belonging to something bigger than yourself. With this will come a sense of peace and satisfaction, knowing that your duty has been done, the mission was accomplished, and the group had succeeded.
Hard Work will bring fulfilment. Quiet professionals are Hustlers. They keep grinding, keep improving, keep learning, and have patience. They look for steady improvement versus instant gratification. Daily small steps forward lead to big gains over time. The quiet professional doesn’t accept shortcuts and works on becoming a true craftsman of the trade.
As with anything you have to go beyond what experience has taught you and focus on the wisdom that comes from it. Wisdom takes work and includes reflection, admitting and owning mistakes, forgiving yourself, learning and then stepping back up to the plate for another swing. And wisdom doesn’t come easy.
Most of the time life is fairly simple; we know what the “right” thing to do is. However our over thinking minds and selfish ways will try to confuse things with rationalization. Forcing to think about what is right and what is easy, even though we know deep down what is right. Most of the time easy isn’t always right!
The quiet professional will ignore the mind’s attempt at rationalization and focus on the hard truths with clear eyes. They will identify the right road even though it might be the more difficult one. They know that no one is perfect, and don’t act as if they are. When they don’t do the right thing, quiet professionals reflect, admit it, they learn from it, they then forgive themselves and look forward and focus on future improvement.
The quiet professional is realistic in their expectations for themselves and for their people. They will never ask someone to do something they wouldn’t or haven’t done themselves. They hold themselves to the same or higher standard.
Never stop learning. The quiet professional is not driven by competitiveness and ambition, but by the desire to improve, a strong respect for the profession and commitment to continued learning and personal growth. Learning is not just taking classes. It is a blend of experience, course work, hands on and critical thinking. While the senior people may have the experience, the newest rookie has the current knowledge. Learning takes place from the top to the bottom and back up again. The nature of the military and fire service is that the mission requires a wide variety of tasks to be accomplished to be successful. You can never know too much about a job that can kill you and just because you have been in the business for a long time, doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Conversely just because something is new and appears to be a great solution, you can’t discount the experience of those that have been around the block. The fire service has never had access to information like it does today, use the assets available to you and learn from them.
Do your job. To borrow from Mark VonAppen and Fully Involved. It sounds simple, but the tenets Mark teaches are the keys to be successful. Do your job; Treat people right, Give an all-out effort and have an all in attitude. Excellence is my responsibility! This is the baseline level for the quiet professional. They will do this every day with consistency.
There will be days when it is going to be difficult and you are going to be tested to the core, but the quiet professional will embrace the difficulty. The obstacle is never too big and shows the way. Life is not fair and anything worth doing is hard. There will often be no light at the end of the tunnel. The quiet professional doesn’t whine and complain or blame the circumstances on someone else. The quiet professional soldiers on, with an eye toward the mission and the team.
Ultimately the quiet professional is full of gratitude every day for all that he’s been given and no accomplishment is too small. He or she realizes that a simple thank you can motivate people in ways not imaginable to most people. They never put themselves in a position to take from their people. They share their knowledge; life experience, accomplishments and they highly respect the opinion of others.
The concept of the quiet professional seems to be an endangered quality of military units and fire departments. The constant drumbeat of safety and us first, combined with the societal shift away resiliency and a need to be recognized for every action, has moved us into an era where the mission is not our priority, and many feel the need to sing their own praises.
There are however many firefighters keeping their heads down, their mouths shut and their focus on doing their job. These are the firefighters that should be the role models going forward. They may seem reserved, but they are the go to guys. They are usually the most passionate, hard-working, relentless individuals that always get the job done. These are the pipe hitters that love to train and always seem to be the ones on the fireground that take on the toughest jobs. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time.
So, ask yourself, are you a quiet professional?
Dave LeBlanc is a Deputy Chief with the Harwich, Massachusetts Fire Department. Dave entered the Fire Service in 1986 as a Call Firefighter with the Dennis Fire Department. He worked full time during the summers in Dennis, while attending the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut. While at the University of New Haven, Dave studied Arson Investigation. He also was a volunteer with the Allingtown and West Haven Fire Districts in West Haven. He spent his sophomore year as a Live In student with the Allingtown Fire District. His education included internships with the Aetna Insurance Company and the Boston Fire Department Arson Squad.
Kelly Lemmons was born in Vicenza, Italy. He is currently a Staff Sergeant in the Army National Guard and is currently serving as a Infantry Instructor. Lemmons is a firefighter for Defense Logistics Agency and the deputy chief of the Colonial Park Fire Company in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.