When I was a young Explorer Scout riding along on Engine 31 in my hometown I had the opportunity to learn about the modern Fire Service from some amazing mentors. It was at this house that I learned about the future of EMS in the service, what death looks like and the very beginnings of what it means to be part of a team.
I was reminded of this recently when rig washing day rolled around.
When I was an Explorer I clearly remember Firefighter Pokey (Yes his real name) grabbing me and telling me to get out back, fast. Outside the back bay doors was the Chief’s Suburban. He was on his normal daily circuit of the houses in his Battalion. FF Pokey and I quickly got to washing the car. When we were finished drying it off he climbed in and parked it facing the other way and we went back inside.
When I asked Pokey why we did that, his answer stuck with me:
“Always wash the Chief’s car first. That shows respect. Then park it the other way so they notice. That shows that it was us without telling him.”
As a Captain I always wash my own buggy, but on Saturdays we wash all the rigs. After the morning meeting broke up I went out to the closet, prepped a bucket, grabbed some towels, pulled a hose and pulled the Chief’s buggy onto the apron.
Then I washed it.
The Chief came walking out a few minutes later to see my drying off her buggy and she asked why I was washing her buggy and not my own.
“I’ll get to mine. We wash yours first, preferably without you here, old habits die hard I guess,” And I told her what 16 year old me learned long, long ago.
While memes pop up about good leaders doing the dirty work, let’s not forget that no matter how much they want to chip in and do the little things, they deserve your attention in doing the little things first.
Chiefs can wash dishes, sure, but they’ll have to pay careful attention to the sponge when I’m around. They always seem to get an important phone call when they step up to wash and I’m nearby.
Chiefs can wash Engines, sure, but wouldn’t it be nice if they were already clean?
Go the extra mile and wash the Chief’s car first. Then, when the new guy shows up, do what FF Pokey did for me. Grab them by the arm and show them what to do and why. You’ll be influencing the next generation of the Fire Service.