I suppose this post could be considered a part-2 to my cartoon published last week regarding apathetic leaders pushing loyal people out the door. This week I want to discuss firefighters who are in a leadership role who constantly belittle, berate, and abuse newer firefighters – you know, the lifeblood and future of the fire service. Perhaps I’m just naive, but I always thought the role of a veteran firefighter or officer was to make sure the younger ones were mentally and physically ready to get off the bench and into the game when their numbers were called. Silly cartoonist – what do I know.

I’ve seen this behavior too many times, and quite frankly, I’m sick of it! What do people get out of mistreating others anyway? Self-gratification? An ego boost? Kicks? Enough! I’m not talking about the brotherhood building lighthearted razzing that happens around the kitchen table, but the character killing, morale busting, undignified behavior of a few that effects so many. When I was growing up we called them bullies, unfortunately today they are called sir!

My friend Capt. Mark vonAppen has a saying, “Treat people right.” Simple enough, eh? But nearly impossible for some to adopt – there’s a reason his class is so popular and relevant. It all comes down to this, nobody signed up to be your personal whip, and you have no earthly right to treat anybody with anything less than respect. So, get off your self-righteous bully trip, or get on out the back door. The fire service needs leaders, not tyrants!

STAY FIRE UP, and remember what your mama always said, “treat people the way you wish to be treated.”

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Loyalty [loi-uh l-tee] The state or quality of being loyal; faithfulness to commitments or obligations. Faithful adherence to a sovereign, government, leader, or cause.

I know many who could be the face of this definition; the epitome of what it means to be loyal. I have revered these men and women, called them brother and sister, and in some cases, fought with them to pull lifeless souls back from the grasp of death itself. So, when I see their spark of enthusiasm and loyalty smothered by a leadership structure that seems to place more value in numbers and equipment than the irreplaceable intangibles that these people bring to the job every day, it’s heartbreaking beyond words… or art.

So much is lost when loyal people finally reach the cliff of “I don’t give a damn!”- and take the leap. I read Peter Drucker’s quote a few years ago, and it struck me as a dark omen of things to come – a black cloud on the horizon that may or may not develop into a storm. After all, how dangerous does distant thunder sound? But when that storm finally arrives, it’s relentless, unforgiving, and devastating. In the aftermath, you’re left searching through the debris of what once was and wonder why you didn’t prepare for its coming, or at the very least, act to minimize the damage. In the framework of this metaphor, that’s where good leadership must step up and either change course or fortify the infrastructure before the storm arrives. To predict the storm – to care that the storm will be disastrous. To not be apathetic!

How many of you see the clouds on your horizon; hear the distant thunder and see flashes of lighting? Are you ignoring the hurricane flags that are beginning to snap in the increasingly strong winds, or are you preparing to weather the storm? I guess it all comes down to the type of leadership you have, or the type of leader you are. Are you catabolic or anabolic?

Catabolic leaders take advantage of the people around them. A catabolic leader only considers what others can do for them, where firefighters are like pawns on a chess board that the leader controls, and neither their loyalty, experience, values nor intangibles are considered.  The catabolic leader rarely, if ever, gives credit to anyone else, since they believe that when firefighters work for them, they own them and all their accomplishments.  Typically domineering and condescending, the catabolic leader puts themselves first, always having to be right and feel superior.  And so, it shouldn’t be surprising that most catabolic leaders are met with exactly what they have created: once loyal people that now don’t give a damn!

Anabolic leaders, however, utilize instead of use the people around them. An anabolic leader, having the belief that all firefighters have something to offer, seek ways to incorporate individual talents and department needs. Anabolic leaders help team members find their gifts, and utilize those gifts to best serve the organization, as well as the team members themselves.  They recognize the knowledge and skills of those around them, and they act in ways that make others want ownership. Loyalty is respected, encouraged, nurtured, and thus received.

Anabolic leaders use life-skills such as listening, acknowledging, validating, and championing to create relationships and make each of their team members a leader in his or her own right. And so, accordingly, anabolic leaders find solutions in those people around them.

If leaders saw the people in their departments or crews truly as irreplaceable resources, what a different place and focus that department would have.  Think about how you and your organization treat the most valuable resource, your people. Are they problems needing help and solutions, or true resources to be nurtured, motivated, and empowered?

Loyalty cannot be replaced on a whim or by simply replacing a pawn on the chess board. Loyal people are to be rewarded with loyalty in return!

STAY FIRED UP, and treat your people right! Never push loyal people to the point that they don’t give a damn!

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Here’s another drawing I did from last week’s northern Michigan vacation. We stopped by a local BBQ joint for some lunch where I noticed a small flying pig on a promotional bulletin-board flyer. I’ve always been amused by the whimsy of flying swine, but I started thinking, how do flying pigs get around if they have an injured wing? I mean, once you’ve flown, walking would be out of the question, right? So, one thing lead to another, and…




It’s a Bird’s Life



Sheryl and I were crashing by the beach today and I was watching with amusement at a gull searching the shoreline for anything remotely edible for nearly an hour. I started to wonder what would happen if I presented a huge fish to him. Well, my imagination churned up and one thing lead to another, and…

Bear Necessities


During our hike last week Sheryl thought she smelled men’s cologne in the middle of the forest. I explained that it is Black Bear mating season and they like to smell nice for the ladies. Some bears are “players”, you know. Well, one thing lead to another, and…