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5 Lessons From A Firefighter Life

Frédéric Jacquet is a retired volunteer firefighter based in France who has written about the shared lessons in both digital transformaton and firefighting.

A couple of years ago, on top of my work in the information technologies sector, I’ve been serving for 10 years as Volunteer Firefighter.

During the day I was working within American firms making softwares to help companies on their journey to Digital Transformation as Information Management subject matter expert (for the record, I’m still doing this job). Two nights a week, plus at least 24 hours during the week-end, I was living into a fire station to fulfill firemen’s and rescue missions.

In this context, the firefighter duty day is a microcosm of life as a whole. Based on my experience, I would like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned not only from my fellow firemen but also, more often than I could have imagined, from the victims I came to rescue.

Five key lessons.

Being a firefighter is not only a job, it’s also a second life condition. The scope of interventions and areas where firefighters are involved in France is wide: First-aid and emergency assistance to people, traffic accidents, fire, industrial risks and pollution, forest fires, contingency plans, natural disasters, … If you are asking, the answer is ‘yes’. We also rescue stuck cats out of trees and gutters.

Among all of the life teaching I got from all my experiences, there are 5 lessons which resonate particularly well, especially in my professional life.

A firefighter needs -I mean really needs- to be ready. You never know when your beeper is going to urge you to jump in a truck for a rescue mission. Whatever you are busy at -doing sport, eating, resting, swimming in a pool or maintaining the equipment- you have very few minutes to pack what you need and go.

In civil society no matter where you work or what is your field of expertise, you want yourself to be ready too. This implies that you have to learn and train your skills. Every day adds its experience and offers an opportunity to round out knowledge, to improve yourself.

It often appears that between uncertainty and expertise or know-how, there is a space that tends to gradually expand as you learn, where stands the experience. This is the reason why you can never stop.

But once we have said that, being ready is mostly a mindset. You cannot take your position for granted, but rather constantly challenge yourself.

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.” — Albert Einstein

You may know that firefighters are working as a team. Therein perhaps lies the very foundations of their effectiveness. You’ve all seen in a movie or in real life, fire trucks arriving on accident scene, and these guys get out of their truck acting as a coordinate group. There, is the team power. (Small hint: when they are getting off, if they are moving in slow motion and you hear action music, it is a movie).

In the life of an enterprise, once you are ready, you can face your mission to meet your goals. As an IT expert for instance, whatever are your strengths, your skills or your experience, you can -you must- amplify them by playing a team game.

The team not only empowers you, but you can also bring value to the team in turn.

And the beauty in all this, is that it creates a virtuous circle that increases the intrinsic value of each individual, enhances the global effectiveness of the group, strengthens professional and personal relationships between all the team members, reinforces the image that it projects outward, increases the chances of success… and the list goes on.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” — Michael Jordan

Do not get me wrong — Firefighters do not deal with a customer neither with a client but with victims.

My point here, is to explain that preparing yourself and working with a team is not an abstraction. That’s clearly not about seeking an ideal of life but on the contrary, gearing up for action. An action that is addressed to people, whether you want to save their life or help them to operate digital transformation.

In our job, it should be kept in mind that the purpose for us, to prepare, learn, organize, take actions independently or in a team, is to benefit customers and their interests.

This must lead our strategy and motivate us.

“You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” — Steve Jobs

Being a fireman is exciting, exhilarating, inspiring, gratifying but at the same time, the firefighter life is stressful, demanding, exhausting. Sometimes you have to cope with terrible events, you can find your pair and yourself in a situation where your lives at risk…

Cohesion is always useful for teamwork. You need a glue that put you, your team and your mission together -besides dedication and workmanship. A good way to achieve this cohesion might be having fun. It helps you to relax, to tend to play down the importance of a critical situation, to stand back from your fears or your uncertainties, to take a step back from ourselves, recover from the crisis.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” — Dale Carnegie

At this point, you understand and hopefully share the essence that have emerged from the 4 previous points.

You do your best to be ready, you empower the strengths of the team including yourself for one ultimate purpose: serving your Client. Keeping goals on track and, as you need to be in a realistic-positive frame of mind, you try, when possible and appropriate, to have fun

Then, what next?

Set aside theory, forget good advice and just get sh#!t done. At one time or another, no matter what, it is the results that count.

“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” — John Wayne

This article first appeared on Medium

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