What the Fire Service Can Learn From Brian Williams’ Suspension

Brian Williams, the now suspended NBC Nightly News Anchor, enjoyed what some might call the top spot among News Anchors. His recent fall from graces over misrepresenting events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003 has some lessons for firefighters as I divulge below.

I will say this…I have always liked Williams and I thought he did a great job. How can you not like his rap videos by The Tonight Show. His past apparently came back to haunt him…something that probably never would have happened if he was a no-name reporter.

“Ability can take you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there” ― Zig Ziglar

brian williamsFirefighters are storytellers. We have witnessed and been a part of some amazing incidents that are hardly believable when telling someone who isn’t in public safety. They simply wouldn’t understand without Hollywood effects and blowing everything out of proportion. The truth is that our stories don’t need the Hollywood hype to make them interesting, they need that to help others understand them. We know the ins and outs of what we do and simply need the context and details to understand a good story.

We tell the same stories over and over. We all do it. We don’t remember who we told last, or when it was told, but we tell it like it is the first time sharing it ever. It is exciting to us to share our stories with others.

Of course there are the 1 uppers. You know the guys who chomp at the bit the entire time you are telling your story…they are tapping the floor and foaming at the mouth to tell their story that HAS to be much better than yours.

Ok, you guys get it…we like telling stories.

Often times, other people have differing views of what happened. Those differing views can ruin your credibility. In Williams’ case, it appears as though the differing views were the ones who lived Williams’ story…yet not with Williams. For instance, Williams talked of being in a helicopter that came under fire. While there was a helicopter that came under fire around the time that Williams was in the area, he apparently was not in that helicopter. Full story here

So, what does that have to do with Firefighters?

Much like it has to do with everyone, it is character suicide to create a lie.

Keep storytelling as factual as possible.

Years ago in my department there was a huge fire in very cold temperatures. Over the years, I have heard from dozens of guys tell the story very similarly that they were frozen to the top of a ladder truck flowing water. They were up there so long, their gear froze to the ladder. To be honest, I wasn’t there. I have no clue who was there. I know for a fact that 20 guys couldn’t have been frozen to the tip of that ladder at once.

While the embellishment in that story will likely not come back to haunt anyone, it is an example of how a story can get legs and become something else. After hearing the story so many times, maybe others make it their experience over time.

Who in the fire service can be most effected by similar actions to Brian Williams? Chiefs, Union Officers, Fire Service Leaders, etc. Yes, those men and women are under a lot of scrutiny. They simply cannot make everyone happy. You show me a successful person and I will show you the bitterly jealous people who would love to see them fall. Don’t get me wrong, some deserve what might come to them.

The best way to keep the #Williamseffect from happening to you is to not embellish stories or simply don’t lie. While I am not saying Williams lied (as I was not there), it seems apparent that others have differing facts.

The next best thing you can do if you are caught in a similar situation is be open and honest about the facts and potential variances in stories. Get ahead of the impending news related to the situation and divulge why stories might vary.

Then be sure to apologize for any misgivings.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t be sacrificed in the name of truth, but it might spare some of the character ruination your stories have lent you.

In the name of Brotherhood, if you witness someone “adding” a little too much to a story, call them on it. Trust me, you are doing them a favor. It puts them in check before they get a chance to do real damage in the future.

Of course, Williams might have learned his “story telling” when he was a volunteer firefighter for the Middletown Township Fire Department (NJ) while he was in high school.

– The Fire Critic

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