It’s not about what color your rig is on the outside, but who’s riding on the inside

Coeur d'Alene (ID) FD's 1924 ALF

Coeur d’Alene (ID) FD’s 1924 ALF

For years a lot of you have heard me say in either a Pride and Ownership class or Our History: This Should Be Day 1 in the Academy, my fire service history class,that many firefighters are or were not aware of why red paint is used for most fire apparatus.   That the color red in the fire service represents Courage and Valor. Also, that red paint was used in the “olden days” because it was expensive, the same as gold leaf was for artwork and lettering, and was one more way to “one up” the other volunteer and career companies who we were always competing with. And if you heard me say that, you probably also heard me say “That if your rig is yellow, green, mauve, or whatever, if you park it outside in the sun it will ripen!”

The vast majority of you realize that whole ripen thing is a joke (at least as far as you know!) Now, all kidding aside, the reality of it is that it doesn’t matter what color the paint is on the outside, it’s who is riding on the inside that matters. The engine, truck, rescue or whatever doesn’t make the “Company”–the people inside them do. Just as the building doesn’t make a church, the clergy and parishioners do.

Company Pride

There are some who associate the word pride with arrogance, and I guess some do fall into that category. But the kind of pride I’m talking about is that which comes with ownership. That whole “This is my engine,” “my ladder truck,” “my firehouse” thing. I love when firefighters use the word “my” that way. “These are my tools,” “This is my captain” and so on. There is a big difference between saying “Have you met the chief?” and “Have you met my chief?”

I was having a conversation with a fire chief not too long ago and he explained to me that he didn’t like it when firefighters used the word “my” and that allowing them to do so broke down the overall team effort resulting in more of the “What’s in it for me?” style of firefighters coming on-board. To be honest, I just don’t see it that way. If you’re not having “the talk” with your new firefighters (coming in a later blog) and explaining to them what it is we do and why we do it, what our core values are, why we exist in the first place, then you’re missing a very important time in their career, a chance to jump start them in the right direction, from day 1. They’re not going to find out about it on accident. You have to tell them, explain it to them, so they understand just how special it is to be a part of the fire service. Get them to understand early what it means to be part of a special team, that special company. Instill the ownership in them right away!

Individual ownership helps to build company and department pride. That overall fire department pride and ownership doesn’t come from just any team, but rather from the team filled with individuals who have ownership and love what they do, know they have value in the organization, have that fighting spirit and want to be the best at what they do so that their team will shine and be one that others will envy. Bring a bunch of those individuals together and you’ll see a company that kicks butt when it comes to company pride. You’ll see it in how they take care of their tools, their equipment, their rig, their firehouse, how they train, and most importantly, treat each other. That’s the team I want to be a part of! That’s the one everyone wants to be on! I’ve been in some pretty run-down, bug-infested firehouses where the guys do their best but have to play with the cards they were dealt, and you’d have to blast them out of there. Run-down firehouse, apparatus, it doesn’t matter, it’s the individuals on the team that make for the team’s overall success.

In closing, the “red fire truck and others ripening in the sun” joke is funny, just like it is to watch an engine guy and truck guy go at it, but the reality is it’s just that, a joke. That the color of paint, age of the apparatus or firehouse, busy or slow station…none of that makes for that fine-tuned, got-it-all-together company. It’s the people! The firefighters and company officers who OWN the job! They’re the ones who come together and make up the all-star team. That’s ownership!

Be safe and let me know what you think.

If you’d like to have Chief Lasky out for a presentation, please contact him at I you f you ard me say that you probably also heard me say “

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