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The Million Dollar Question


By John Morse

When we learn from our mistakes we call that experience.  When we learn from other people’s mistakes we call that inexpensive experience, because we had nothing to lose since another person took the consequences of that learning experience.  Just like we can learn from our mistakes or other people’s mistakes, we can also learn from other people’s positive experiences.

In some instances, people will share this information without anyone asking questions.  In other instances, people ask those with more time on the job how to handle a situation.  One of the best ways to get an interesting answer is to ask what is called the Million Dollar Question.  The Million Dollar question is very simply.  What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

That is a pretty simple question but not a very easy one to answer.  It can be answered as a life question, but for this instance it is associated with a career in the fire service.

A station full of firefighters can be a pretty tough atmosphere.  Most times there will be a couple firefighters with a lot of time (20-30 years) on the job, one middle of the road firefighter (about 15 years), one new guy, and some poor guy that got promoted that is expected to get these guys to get along, and also get a whole bunch of things accomplished.

If you are a new guy, keep your mouth shut.  You are there to listen and learn.  You are not there to share your opinion yet so keep that to yourself.  If you are in the middle of your career, you are transitioning from learner to teacher.  You should know enough to share knowledge with new hires, but just because you went to a class, don’t expect the old timers to go along with some silly new tactic.  Old timers often get bitter and spend the twilight hours of their career complaining about everything that happens.  By the time you have spent 20 years in the fire service, you probably have a pretty good idea whether or not you are going to be promoted. Don’t let your lack of promotion make you bitter.  The most influential people on the fire department are those that wear a blue shirt, maintain a positive attitude, and share their experience and knowledge.

If you are fortunate enough to have been promoted, Congratulations you are now expected to be one of the guys and also be a part of an administrative team.  Some will say you can’t be one of the guys and also be on the management team, I disagree.  It is possible to wear these two hats at the same time.  You just have to wear both of them at the same time without switching hats.

You have to decide what you believe and not change hats based on the crowd you are with.  If you believe something, believe it all the time.  Don’t go along with a policy in the administrative meeting and talk about how stupid it is with the guys.  You might not want to call it stupid in the administrative meeting but if you disagree with it, voice the same opinion all the time.  Believe what you believe all the time, don’t change your opinion based on the crowd you are with. 

Take a couple minutes to answer the Million Dollar Question yourself.  You can answer it about your fire career, or your personal life.  It’s not an easy question to answer, but it’s a good way to see what you believe in.

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