Placards are used to help us identify what a vehicle is hauling. They usually have a corresponding number in the ERG to let us know what to do when we encounter the corresponding material.
However would you be surprised to know that people have placards too? Would you even be further surprised to know YOU have one?
Well it is true! Each one of us comes with one of these based on how we have acted in our fire service career. You can usually tell if yours is positive or negative by the reaction of people when you walk into the room. Are they excited to see you? Do they groan?
Sadly we may not even know what is on our placard unless someone decides to have the difficult conversation with us. I was lucky I had people who mentored me who cared enough to tell me when I was going the wrong direction. This is what my placard looked like after 7 years with my department
I had several people say this statement to me many times during my first few years on “Robby no one ever said you are a bad fireman, you are just an asshole”. At one point I wore that asshole label not like a warning but like a badge of honor! I was a young kid who wanted to be the best fireman I could be, and if you messed up I was going to tell you about it. However I also wanted to be a leader, and found quickly that as talented as I was no one cared because I was a negative asshole. So after a lot of mentorship, reading, and changing my placard has changed. I am far from perfect, and I still make a lot of mistakes but those words on my personal placard have changed.
Can we always control what is on our placard? No, perception is everything and I have given people a positive or negative label based on a single encounter only to go back and see that I was wrong. With that being said a majority of what is on your placard is directly controllable by you.
Firefighters want leaders who care, are competent, fair, decisive and loyal. Ok an maybe a little bit of an asshole (one of the best Chiefs I know would be described as a bit of an asshole but I would follow him anywhere). So strive to make your placard say those things! Do the work, set high expectations, train, PT, eat with the shift, etc. You will stumble along the way but leadership and personal growth are marathons not sprints.
Start by spending 1 hour in the gym, 1 hour in the library, and 1 hour doing hands on training every shift.
As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!
*Thanks to Mikel Redford, and Bobby Drake for inspiring this blog, and thanks to all the mentors I have had along the way (Cricket, Ben, Scotty, Andrew, Greg, Scooter, Jeff) for having the hard conversation with me.