Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #9
Use the words “always” and “never” sparingly.
Declare that you will “always attack a fire X way” or “never enter a structure under Y conditions” and fate will undoubtedly present you with an exception to your rule. Don’t paint your agency into a corner with overly specific protocol and policies. The fireground is dynamic and your tactics must be, too. A well-rehearsed general strategy is necessary, but leave room for skilled, experienced company officers to call an audible when the circumstances warrant it.
(Photo by Ron Burgess Jr.)
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #3
Do Good Work
No matter what, always do good work. You may have no control over administrative power-plays, departmental politics, or experimental policies. Don’t spend your time worrying about issues that are out of your hands. Focus on the things in your control. Keep your mind, body, equipment, and crew in a state of readiness. Let others worry about what shirt you’re supposed to wear today. When the tones drop, it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you have a seat on the rig, your tools are ready for work, and that, at the end of the day, you did your job.
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #20
Coffee, hot and black. The catalyst for starting a productive shift and the fuel for making it through a busy night. Some of the greatest lessons in the fire service begin with a fresh pot and a circle of firemen. Whether you gather around the front bumper, the kitchen table, or on the back ramp, it’s all the same. Seniors, pass down your knowledge; probies, open your ears. Fill your mug and your mind. These lessons won’t be found in a classroom or textbook.
(Contributed by Erik Heath)
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #7
Sometimes things don’t go your way. Your big idea may be shot down. Someone may disagree with your opinion. Occasionally, you may even be flat-out wrong. It doesn’t mean that the world is out to get you. Admit to your errors, negotiate around life’s obstacles, and move on.
(Contributed by Brian Brush of Fire by Trade)
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #16
“I’ll remember when it’s the real deal” is a weak and tired fallacy. Building muscle memory through repetition occurs regardless of whether you are building proper or poor technique. Skip the step of donning your hood or grabbing a tool on ninety-nine false alarms and you can guarantee that you will arrive to that one working fire with a naked neck and empty hands. Do your job; do it right, every time.
“We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus
(Contributed by Dave LeBlanc)
Comfort and Complacency
When we first enter the fire service, motivation is easy to find. As a probie, we are well aware that we are the weak link of the team. We are at the bottom of our department’s ladder. Everyone is our superior. The urge to improve is strong. We strive to become a contributing asset to the company, rather than a liability that everyone must keep an eye on. We are constantly challenged and made uncomfortable as we are outperformed by those around us.
As we gain experience and our skills improve, we begin to rise on the ladder of seniority. New hires come in below us and we surpass the abilities of some less-motivated, senior “employees”. We begin to feel comfortable in our department’s little “bubble”. We are familiar with everyone’s abilities and how they compare to our own. We are safe and secure.
If we remain in this “bubble”, we can easily convince ourselves that we have little room for improvement. This is especially true if we are one of our department’s top performers. Slowly, the challenge to improve disappears. The drive to advance dissipates. Comfort gives way to complacency. We become stagnant.
Step outside the “security bubble” of our department and it quickly becomes apparent that we are not so great after all. There are individuals nationwide who outperform you on nearly every level. Expose yourself to new ideas and methods. Challenge yourself to match the skills of tradesmen across the country. Do your best to maintain a level of slight discomfort in your abilities; the knowledge that you may be good, but you can still be better. Spread this discomfort to those around you. Attack the status quo of mediocrity. Challenge your company and department to overcome the plague of apathy and complacency created by a comfortable existence.
Do not become stagnant. Keep moving forward. You aren’t as great as you think you are and you can always be better tomorrow.
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #15
Change doesn’t always equal progress. Change to tactics and equipment that results in a marked improvement should be tried and tested under the scrutiny of experience. However, implementing new tactics simply because they’re new is a faulty course to follow. Innovation is wonderful, but efficiency and success should be the measure of our methods. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
A recent article on this subject from the military blog-world:
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #4
Maintain an open, but skeptical mind. Learn not just how to perform a skill, but why it is performed that way. Do not accept a method as “the only way” simply because it is written in a textbook. Realize that all educational information is susceptible to inaccuracies, whether from in-house sources, outside instructors, or even accredited curriculum. Even the best resources may teach some methods that simply cannot be applied to your department’s specific circumstances. Continually analyze your own operations for shortcomings, be humble enough to acknowledge the need for improvement, and be willing to make changes when necessary.
These Sheep Don’t Follow
I recently shared a short exchange about the BSRC with a like-minded colleague. He didn’t know exactly who was behind the group, but wanted to voice his support for the movement. I told him that I wasn’t trying to keep my identity a secret, but I wasn’t planning on advertising it, either. I dislike the idea of having a “fearless leader” figure to follow. I see the BSRC movement as a scattering of small, independently operating cells. A person here, a company there. Self-sustaining groups motivated beyond mediocrity and pushing for excellence in themselves and their department. There is no “head of the snake” to take out and kill the movement. I occasionally glimpse a BSRC logo as a profile picture or see a “friend-of-a-friend” post photos of BSRC printed on hats or shirts and I think it’s great. Folks are taking this and making it their own; I support every bit of it.
The Sheep is an indicator of a shared devotion to the trade. A mutual desire to learn a new skill or improve an old one. A sign that we have no problem spending hours throwing ladders behind the station alone if nobody wants to join us. We won’t be ashamed of our enthusiasm for the trade. However, we shouldn’t attempt to reserve it, either. We may me solitary entities now, but our goal is to grow.
When someone asks about the Sheep on your helmet, don’t just point them to the internet. Instead, tell them, “I’ll show you.” Hand them an article by Andy Fredericks, then stretch some lines and flow some water. For the truckie Sheep, force a door or throw some ladders. Grab some neglected tools off the rig, head to the shop, and clean them up. Pass on your pride for the trade. That’s what the Black Sheep Rebel Club is.
In some firehouses, these actions may occur on a daily basis and that’s a good point. This isn’t some new idea that anybody came up with. It’s a centuries-old mindset shared by many across the fire service, but it seems to be diminishing more and more. The realization that this is, and will always be, a blue-collar trade. A craft centered on basic, hands-on skills. The reality that no matter how many flashy titles you apply to the fire service; no diploma, certificate, or textbook will put out a fire. It always comes down to simple, dirty, hard work. Sweat, water, and a strong foundation of basic skills.
This passionate attitude still overflows in some departments, but in others it is nearly extinct. As a young member of the trade, I see this mentality being lost on many of my generation, as well as generations before. I hope to have many more years learning and working this craft and I don’t want my passion for it to be a rarity twenty years from now. The BSRC is just one more way to share and pass on that enthusiasm for the fire service. Some “fire department employees” won’t get it. Explain it to them and encourage them to join in. They may be reluctant, but let every clang of a ladder against the station wall serve as an invitation and a reminder. Join us or ignore us, it makes no difference. We’re moving forward.
These Sheep don’t follow, they lead.
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #1
Firm, blunt, and to the point because sometimes that’s the only way to get the message across. Not everyone does things the way that you do. Not everyone likes the tools that you do. We come from many regions, departments, and backgrounds. None of us is perfect. That guy may not be the greatest firefighter the world has ever seen, but neither are you. It is perfectly acceptable to engage in a respectful, professional exchange regarding our differences, but don’t cross the line. Take a look in the mirror before you start throwing rocks and play nice.