Friday, August 14, 2009

Learning how to Learn

I am convinced that pride is the one thing that stands in the way of people achieving greatness.

Sounds silly doesn't it? After all, only those who are great would have reason to be proud, right?

Not exactly. Let me give you a few examples:

Recruit class, vehicle extrication practical; my crew is working with a Captain from the special operations division of the fire district. He sends me to retrieve a tool from the rescue squad on scene. When I return, he spends the next 5 minutes lecturing us on why we should be "moving with a purpose" at all times while staring directly into my eyes. The message was obvious; he felt like I wasn't moving quickly enough, and that it reflected some sort of attitude problem (like I didn't care about the tactic, or didn't have any respect for him or something like that). In truth, I didn't have an attitude problem just at the moment, but I didn't think I had been moving slowly the rest of my crew was witnessing him calling me out, so I was on the verge of developing one quickly.

My first vehicle fire, and it's in a different station's run box; I ride to the call with my younger brother (who's been doing this for a few years before me). The "fire" is really just a little smoke coming from the back axle of the vehicle. My brother tells me to go get the pressurized water can while he runs over to size it up. The engine from this station is different than the one at mine, and when I go to the compartment where it should be, I find that because of a different body design much of the equipment on this engine is stored in a different place. He yells over to ask what's taking so long, I tell him I don't know where the water can is, and as he rushes over and grabs it himself from another compartment he says in a frustrated voice "Exactly where it's SUPPOSED to be!". Words like "How the HELL am I supposed to know where anything is when the trucks are different!" fly through my head, but I stifle them.

Truck checks 2 weeks ago, at my home station; A week before the Sr. Firefighter at our station had admonished me for driving too slowly to a call a few miles down on the street that runs in front of our station. I stepped up my game and tried to put a little more speed on when driving to calls. Today the station captain is chastising me for driving too quickly and telling me to ease off on my adrenaline dump. In frustration, I want to say "Fine, that's the last time I drive, you can find someone else who's willing to freely spend their own time covering the station while the residents are out". I don't say it, of course.

A structure fire last week near my home; a good friend of mine who was my instructor in recruit class is first on the scene. It's a small fire, so it's quickly out. When I get inside, he tells me to go back out and get a scoop shovel from the engine to start carrying debris and ash out of the house. I set down the pike pole and radio I'm carrying and head outside to comply. On my way back in, I'm met at the garage door with a radio being thrust into my chest and a low growl saying "You need to hold onto your shit!". Having just had a fight with my wife over the phone not 30 minutes ago, my temper is already on edge, and I have to bite back the words I want to spit back in his face.

Each one of these scenarios has a common thread. I screwed up, and someone tried to correct me. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work. We all want to be good at what we do, and when someone points out our flaws, our pride is wounded. If you let it, that feeling of embarrassment and hurt can prevent you from becoming the capable, competent professional that we already want to think of ourselves as. It can, in fact, cause you to stubbornly continue doing things wrong just to prove to yourself that you weren't in the wrong to begin with. In every situation above, I wanted to lash out and tell them that I was doing fine and to lay off. The only problem is, I was wrong.

Everyone of the individuals above has been a firefighter for a long time, much longer than me. I probably wouldn't take advice from any of them when it comes to calculus, music, or software; but on the fireground, I'd pay attention to any one of them, even if it hurt my feelings just at the moment. Not moving quickly can mean someone dies before we can get them out; knowing where equipment is on different trucks is part of the job, and an important one; driving too fast can get you landed in court when you kill someone during an emergency response; and you need to keep your radio on you at all times because it's the only way the incident commander can get a-hold of you if there's an emergency. I know these things, but my actions indicated disregard for those truths, and my friends and brothers on the department were just trying to make me a better firefighter by pointing these things out. It's up to me to get past my desire to already be the best and take correction to heart.

Take pride in doing a job that helps people; but leave it at home while you're doing it.

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