Firefighter decision-making: What a difference a minute can make

CarolinaFireJournal - Douglas Cline
Douglas Cline
10/05/2012 -

Have you ever recognized what a difference a single minute in your life can make? Most of us only count down the minutes at the end of the day near quitting time, or when we are waiting for a big event. We never really recognize just how important every minute is because every minute makes a real difference. It is important to remember that for everything there is a season, a time for every activity.

Be Aware of Critical Moments

A critical moment is when you make a decision that has a critical impact on your life. These can include fire ground decisions, career decisions, attitude decisions or decisions on choice of words. These may last only a few minutes, hours or days. Sometimes these decisions may have impacts that last a lifetime. Most of our decisions are made in a rapid-fire mode and are impacted by attitude. It is important to remember that attitudes are choices or decisions we make.


Some individuals would look at a pile of rubble and say “what a mess,” while others will look at the same pile and say “what an opportunity.” At this moment there is a critical decision going on. Which one of these individuals would you want leading the fire department in your community? Most would say the one who has a vision of what that “mess” could be.

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in the great state of Vermont training with a group of outstanding emergency services professionals in Addison County. What a breath of fresh air. The amount of energy that was delivered to my starving body was incredible from spending just 48 hours with such great fire service leaders. I was able to reflect upon 50 plus years of leadership legacy that was still going strong. That’s right — the fire chief of Vergennes Fire Department, the late Ralph Jackman, had been the chief for 50 plus years. The best part was he looked at everything in a progressive, proactive philosophy by saying “look at that opportunity.” He understood that every minute made a difference and he understood these critical moments and the importance of a positive attitude even when the chips were down and things were not going as he may have hoped or wanted. What is even bigger is that I can see his leadership and influence still impacting the fire service throughout the state of Vermont as his philosophies and passion lives on in the people he mentored. So we could say each of his minutes counted.

As individuals and leaders of the fire service we must look at opportunities with vision. We must be able to decode the “mess” into “opportunity.” It is paramount that we focus on the concepts that it shouldn’t be this way, but we can make it something else. These are truly hectic times we live in, times that can challenge even the strongest of seasoned leaders or firefighters.

Regularly ask yourself three questions...

1.Who and what is influencing me?

There are many individuals and things that can influence you. Subsequently you must ask yourself if these influences are positive or negative. Many times your influences can be strong positive ones while other times they can be the negative ones that you fall victim too. It is important to have strong positive influences in our lives. Remember ever time you choose to follow an influence it is a critical decision and becomes a critical moment in your life.

“Choose wisely Grasshopper.”

2. Where does my mind naturally go?

What are you thinking about when you have free time or where does your mind drift off frequently? Where your mind goes will have a big influence on critical moments in your life. Make sure that the place your mind is visiting is worth being there!

3. What am I passionate about?

Another way to say this is to ask your self, what do I really like in life? Often times when we get to this level of soul searching we can see that we have things a lot better than others. Often times it is a big reality check that we realize we are not following or doing our passions. It is important to make sure that your passion is not a negatively impacting one as well. Remember everything is influenced by our attitudes; you should always be reminding yourself that your attitude is like a disease and is yours truly worth catching.

Don’t Miss Opportune Moments

We should all be reminded just how brief our time being alive really is. None of us will live forever. We are merely moving shadows and all our busy rushing ends in often times nothing. Opportune moments don’t have to be big successes, but can be as simple as learning how to do something new. We are all busy and miss the opportunity to celebrate great moments. So with all this rushing around and with what we are missing — let’s look at what happens when you get in a real hurry or act in haste:

  • You feel stressed.
  • You lose your joy — your laughter, special times and moments of impact.
  • You are less productive.
  • You can’t hear or see anyone.

So if you don’t want to miss opportune moments or act in haste you need to slow down. You may ask, “How do I slow down”? Remember it is important that you work hard but take time to rest as well. I recently ate lunch at a restaurant where a group of pastors were eating. I heard one of the pastors state that he always reminds his congregation that the devil never rests. Another pastor asked since when did we start following his lead? Silence fell on that group for a moment and then the first pastor replied, “Wow I never looked at it like that!” So what are some helpful hints to get you to slow down?

  • Participate — Go and do more with family friends, colleagues.
  • Delegate — Don’t put that big Superman “S” symbol on your chest. It usually doesn’t signify you are “Superman” but more like “Stupid man.”
  • Procrastinate — Stop and think before you act or speak — take more than just a second in this case. I see great leaders take days, weeks and months to act on items to keep from making poor decisions, which could have devastating effects.
  • Eliminate — Eliminate all the bad influences, attitudes and passions.

Please don’t waste your minutes — they may be running low and you don’t even know it!

Douglas Cline is a 32-year veteran and student of the Fire Service serving as Assistant Chief of Operations with Horry County Fire Rescue. Cline, a former Fire Chief, is a North Carolina Level II Fire Instructor, National Fire Academy Instructor and an EMTParamedic instructor for the North Carolina Offi ce of Emergency Medical Services. Chief Cline is President of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI), the Immediate Past President of the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs (SEAFC), a member of the South Carolina and North Carolina Society of Fire and Rescue Instructors. Cline serves on the FEMA grant criteria development committee, Congressional Fire Service Institute (CFSI) National Advisory Committee and is a peer reviewer for the Fire Act Grants.
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