"Leadership from a Firefighter's Perspective"

By Jackson Baynard

(Published in The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association, Commonwealth Chief Magazine, April 2010, page 36)

Leadership in the fire service is not only reserved for company officers and chief officers, it is up to every firefighter to lead. There is not one singular class you can take nor is there one specific experience that makes you a good leader. It is a combination of four components: an individual’s experiences, relationships, attitude and beliefs. There is no hard and fast rule that you have to adhere to the same beliefs, thoughts or goals throughout your career. These are subject to change based on your experiences and the relationships you build.

The individual experiences of each firefighter are different.  Not all of us have experienced the same academy staff, shared the same company officers or work as part of the same battalion. We all experience a variety of calls that shape our leadership style, strategy / tactics and beliefs. Some of the most commonly overlooked experiences are what each of us bring to work: our life experience outside of work. The challenges each of us faced in both our personal and professional lives shape who we are. It is the choices we make when faced with these challenges that will define us as leaders.

Think back through your career and experiences to the opportunities you have had to build relationships with people. I imagine each of you can identify a few people that have influenced you in your career and personal life more than most. As a relationship is developing you will share experiences and information that will end up reshaping, strengthening or completely changing your current attitude and beliefs. Through the relationships we establish we ultimately form shared beliefs, attitudes and experiences. Honoring the relationship that you build with others means maintaining your personal integrity by aligning your words, actions and beliefs. Think about the leaders you respect and how their personal integrity influenced your view of them.

The particular attitude with which you enter into an experience or relationship ultimately determines whether that experience or relationship is positive. When we choose to enter into something with a negative attitude or belief we create a self fulfilling prophecy that often leads us to failure. Likewise, when we choose to enter these experiences and relationships with a positive attitude we create an environment for ourselves where a positive outcome is more likely. Not only does our attitude directly affect our outcome, it also influences the people around us. One of the greatest influences a leader can have is their attitude. Each day, your attitude is the one thing you have complete control over, it us up to you to make a choice on what type of attitude you have.

The beliefs we each have might not be the same as one another. At times, they may even contradict each other. Still, out of respect for each other and ourselves it is up to us to at least listen to what the other person believes. Just by listening it does not mean that we have to change what we believe or try to change what others believe. It simply means we should try to understand a different perspective. There is a chance, that through experiences and relationships that our beliefs might change. We owe it to ourselves to allow for this opportunity. It is important to reach outside your comfort zone to engage others that might not share the same beliefs. As leader listening and understanding another person’s beliefs encourages personal and professional growth through reflection of your own beliefs.

As you grow and change throughout your career you will develop your own personal leadership philosophy. As a leader you will be challenged at times. It is the choices you make when you meet these challenges that will demonstrate your personal integrity. All challenges present opportunities, you just have to look for it. Your choices will be based on your beliefs that have been influenced by your experiences and relationships. Continuing to maintain a positive attitude will prove to enhance your experiences and relationships.

The Seven simple ideas to improve your leadership as a firefighter

      1.  We all have the ability to be leaders, choose to be one.
      2.  Even when you feel beat down, maintain a positive attitude.
      3.  Strive to engage others in conversation. Remember we all
           have different experiences to share.
      4.  Look in the mirror. Are you who you want to be?
      5.  We all have the ability to change. It takes courage to execute.
      6.  It is all about choices.
      7.  Listen, then Listen and then Listen some more.


      Jackson Baynard was part of the Command Staff for the Virginia Fire Officer Academy for 2007, 2008, 2009 and for 2010 is serving as the Incident Commander. The Virginia Fire Officer Academy for 2009 recieved the Senator Paul S. Sarbanes
 Fire Service Safety Leadership Award from the Congressional Fire Services Institute.
 Baynard also developed the training curriculum for the Virginia Front Line Fire Officers Academy. It won a Congressional Award in 2009.