On the Importance of Following March 03 2013, 4 Comments

 "Every hour spent on the Caine was a great hour in all our lives-if you don't think so now you will later on, more and more."

-Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny


On New Years Eve when my wife asked me what I resolved to do in 2013, I could only reply with a shrug of my shoulders and silence.  You see, any statement made to my wife would be remembered.  She is that uncommon person who actually keeps her resolutions, working at them doggedly until she succeeds at them--all of them.  So, when she asked me, I knew I would be held accountable.  She would remind me later, if only in a joke, how quickly I had forgotten my resolution. 

So the New Year came and went and I hadn't resolved to do a damn thing.  Sure, I want to lose weight, work on my fitness level, strive to be a better Captain, but I do that constantly (not always successfully).   I thought about leadership and my constant struggle with it.  When you become an officer in the fire service, you are constantly judged, but if you care about the job, there is no harsher critic than yourself.  Without fail, I spend most of my first day off analyzing the previous shift and questioning where and how I could have done better. 

Leadership is key.  There have been volumes written on the subject.  There are thousands of inspiring quotes and there are hundreds of pages in the fire journals written by men that are masters of their craft and there are examples everywhere of heroes who have led men under the most trying circumstances.

I thought about this on my drive to work throughout January and into February (still no resolution).  'Maybe I'll truly focus on my leadership skills.'  I thought about this as I listened to The Caine Mutiny, an audio book Christmas gift from my family.  The book is gripping and powerful.  It is no wonder that it is considered one of the best novels of the twentieth century.  The Caine Mutiny is the story of four Captains of the USS Caine as they steam through WWII sweeping for mines and protecting larger, more important and newer ships in the fleet. 

To be certain, as the title suggests, there is a mutiny.  But by the end of the book it seemed to me that this was not simply a book on leadership styles—it’s key qualities and it’s shortcomings, it was a book about following.  It was a book about lack of faith and lack of discipline.

The book and some uninspiring events and fires in the recent months have led me to think about this idea—the discipline to follow, that most unglamorous trait that seems to be endangered and near extinction in our society.   The discipline to follow even when you don’t agree is dying and nearly dead.  In the past we could subvert our disagreements because we believed in the greater good and we believed in the machine that kept us safe and prospering.  This discipline is what wins wars and builds businesses and empires. 

Firemen are filled with ideas, better ways of doing a job, and we are fantastic critics with the hindsight of prophets and the logic and common sense of arm chair quarterbacks. 

I am no less guilty.

I have muttered curses and gone on tirades that are worse than the ones I have witnessed by my peers.  I have thought, ‘we should’ve done it this way,’ or, ‘this would have made more sense,' but at the end of the day I am not in the Chief’s position.  I do not have the view from the  mountain top and I am not aware of all the things that led to the decision they made at any particular moment.

Therefore, the best I can do in moments like these, is simply, shut-up.  Close my mouth and do my job.  Trust that even if the mechanics of the thing, and even if the outcome are not as I would have done it, that our bosses are working with the same goal that I am.  And that is, to help as many as possible and to bring home safely those for whom I’m responsible.


So, going into March, a whole three months late on my resolution, I resolve to have more faith in those that are charged with my care.  Even if I believe they are misguided.  Even if they are unmotivated and they display all the traits of Captain Queeg.  I resolve to do that most difficult of things:  I will have faith that even if they may not be the ‘right man for the job,’  they are in that position now and at the root of it all we both share the same goal.  And that is to keep each other safe and to bring a successful conclusion to each and every tour.