Captain Dugan’s FDIC Keynote Address: Right Message, Wrong Target

FDNY Captain Michael Dugan was blessed with the opportunity to give the keynote address this year at FDIC. This keynote speech has the potential of being the most powerful fire service talk each year. Captain Dugan addressed the FDIC 2011 attendees about “Why we are here”.

This year, I think the target was missed. I think it should have been more about “Why aren’t THEY here?”.

  • “Why aren’t your Fire Chiefs here?”
  • “Why aren’t your coworkers here?”

Don’t get me wrong. Dugan was right in everything he said and it does need to be said. I just think he was speaking to the wrong people. A caged lion as Art Goodrich wrote? Not quite, but I can only imagine the pressure and stress there is in addressing the fire service of today at an event like FDIC.

Now before you think I am off my rocker, this isn’t so much of a critique of Dugan or his speech…it is more about what I think the fire service needs to hear.

No doubt that the “one-percenters” are the true leaders who GET the fire service. They NEED to be reminded to fight the good fight. They need encouragement, guidance, and a pat on the back. They need validation of what they are doing and why they are doing it. They already know “why we are here”, but they need their Fire Chiefs to know “Why they are there”. Why the “one-percenters” travel to conferences, take classes, learn, and teach… to make the fire service better. They need the Fire Chiefs to know that without the “one-percenters” their jobs would be even more difficult…

That is right, the ones who really need to be reminded that there are “one-percenters” are the Chiefs. The Chiefs need to be guided more than ever…but the keynote address was not about them.

The “one-percenters” need to know that Chiefs are in need of encouragement, guidance, and lessons to help the “one-percenters” make the fire service better.

Fire Chiefs need to know what we do and why we do it.

Dugan mentions how the fire service is moving towards a business plan because “the people who make the decisions about the fire service” are “not the ones fighting fires”, “they have never crawled down a hallway”, and “they don’t know what hot is”. Ironically, we have Fire Chiefs who fit this description. I believe Dugan’s finger was pointed more towards legislators, but we have these people in our own ranks. These people in our own ranks are a real problem in the fire service…and they are ruining the fire service and those “one-percenters” we have left.

Too many Fire Chiefs honor boot-licking and flattery over hard work and dedication. The “look at me” generation is here, they are the future of the fire department. It seems as though many Fire Chiefs have adopted that same mindset. Look at what I did, look at what I can do, look at how I am better than them…who cares.

We get the job done…we care but it seems like no one else does.

The “one-percenters” continue fighting, teaching, learning, and spreading their values and beliefs at a “one step forward, two steps back” pace because their leaders aren’t capable of understanding the true issues facing firefighters at the company level.

Firefighters are doing more with less, more often each day. If Fire Chiefs understood the values and beliefs of the “one-percenters”, they might soon find a way to spread that mindset and encourage positive change in the fire service.

Captain Dugan even makes mention of Wooden Ladders & Iron Men…you think he reads ole Willie’s blog?