Learning From Wolves

The attitude of a successful organization can be summed up simply: it is a constant visualization of success. This visualization of success has to be shared by all members of the department. The fragmentation of the team, negative attitudes and alternative visions will lead to the failure of meeting the mission and thus the destruction of the organization, which means the individuals will not reach their true potential. 


There is a perception in the fire service that everyone, to be a valuable member, must aspire to be an officer or a chief. This is the farthest from the truth.

This failure impacts the important component we often forget about, the citizens and community we serve. Just as wolves run as a pack, the fire service organization should also run as a pack, aka department, battalion and company. Each member being a valued asset contributing to the organization at their highest level contributing their skills and abilities as well as talent to the fullest. The collective wisdom of wolves has been progressively programmed into their genetic makeup throughout the centuries.

Wolves have mastered the technique of focusing their energies toward the activities that will lead to the accomplishment of their goals. It is important that we, “the fire service” focus our energies into creating the genetic makeup of our next generation and accomplishing our goals and mission. Nothing gripes me more than to hear comments like; “what are we going to do with this next generation, the kids today are not what we were, this new generation is always asking why, the millennials are the problem,” etc. First, I want to remind everyone that most of these same comments were made about us as we entered the fire service. Most of you likely feel as if we have turned out pretty well for the most part. So, what are all the comments about?

The military is taking this same generation of people and they are preforming complex military tactical operations with pinpoint precision accuracy protecting our freedom. So what is the difference? One area I see is that they are adapting and utilizing the knowledge, talent and skills these individuals bring to the table and developing that into the ability to accomplish the mission via strong leadership, training, education and development, just like wolves do with their young. Wolves don’t eat their young; they protect them, develop them and incorporate them into the pack. As a fire service organization are you incorporating the new generation of firefighters or are you eating them through how we treat them and the lack of true leadership spent on developing them. It is important to remember the new or young in experience firefighter is not going to be at the performance level of a five-year firefighter. It is our job to teach, lead and develop these individuals just as the wolf pack does.

Wolves do not aimlessly run around their intended victims, yipping and yapping. They have a strategic plan and execute it through constant communication. When the moment of truth arrives, each understands his role and understands exactly what the pack expects of him. As I relate this concept to the fire service I can see where importance of every level in the organization is critical in developing and implementing the goals of the department. I further relate this wolves actions to that of a fire service battalion, station or a company. It is critical that each individual understands their role and executes it well. I want to focus deeper in on the officers. Just like the leader of the wolf pack, the officer of the group is accountable for leading. That means that you must be able to lead and motivate the group.

Wolves are seldom truly threatened by other animals. By constantly engaging their senses and skills, they are practically unassailable.

The wolf does not depend on luck. The cohesion, teamwork and training of the pack determine whether the pack lives or dies. Just as this concept relates to wolves it has a direct correlation to the fire service. We cannot depend on luck in the fire service profession. Without department cohesion, teamwork, predicated knowledge, skills and abilities about the fire service — such as tactical operations, building construction, fire dynamics, etc. — the fire service will have catastrophic failures which usually means injuries or death.

There is a perception in the fire service that everyone, to be a valuable member, must aspire to be an officer or a chief. This is the farthest from the truth. Everyone does not strive to be the leader in the organization. Some are engine company or truck operations, rescue operations, medical technicians, trainers or caregivers or jokesters, but each seems to gravitate to the role he does best. This is not to say there are not challenges to authority, position and status — there are. But each firefighter’s role begins emerging from recruit school as a new firefighter — aka rookie — and refines themselves through the rest of their years. The wolf’s attitude is always based upon the question, “What is best for the pack?” This is in marked contrast to us humans, who will often sabotage our organizations, families or businesses, if we do not get what we want. However, the attitude of the fire service should be based upon the same question, “What is best for the department?”

Wolves are seldom truly threatened by other animals. By constantly engaging their senses and skills, they are practically unassailable. They are masters of planning for the moment of opportunity to present itself, and when it does, they are ready to act. In our business we must follow the same philosophy, not threatened by others, especially the ones within our own department, but we should be engaging our senses and skills, training, gaining education, experience, studying our environment and preparing for what is next, being ready to act instantaneously. We should not be worried about what others are doing or losing focus on our role. Wolves in the pack have a role and they focus and perform that role. They do not worry about what the other person is doing or what the leader may be doing but again are focused on their role.

Because of training, preparation, planning, communication and a preference for action, the wolf’s expectation is always to be victorious. While in actuality, this is true only 10 percent of the time or less. The wolf’s attitude is always that success will come — and it does. In the fire service our focus should be the same. Fortunately our success percentage is much higher. We have a lot we could learn from the animal kingdom, especially the wolf pac

Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Rescue. He is the Executive Editor for The Fire Officer and Executive Director for the Command Institute in Washington D.C. A 36 year fire and emergency services veteran as well as a well-known international speaker, Cline is a highly published author of articles, blogs and textbooks for both fire and EMS. As a chief officer, Cline is a distinguished authority of officer development and has traveled internationally delivering distinguished programs on leadership and officer development. He also has a diverse line of training videos on leadership, rapid intervention team training, vehicle fires, hose line management, and emergency vehicle operations and fire ground safety and survival.

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