There are many tasks in which people in the fire service dislike. For some firefighters, the actions of scrubbing toilets or going on medical calls are looked at as a waste of their firefighting ability. Beyond the obvious line that resides in most of our job descriptions that states “All other duties as assigned,” there shouldn’t be that attitude. When I think back, a teacher in high school passed on a story that made me think about how I view the tasks I perform. Since my perception is my reality, it is up to me to make it fit what I am suppose to do. I learned a long time ago that the only thing I had 100% control over was myself and my perceptions. Anyway, back to the story….
Epaminondas was a very successful general who lived in Greece around 400 B.C. Brilliant military victories earned him the respect and admiration of many. But his fame also caused him to be the target of jealousy. A few evil men feared Epaminondas and conspired to claw and tear him down from his position of influence. That would seem to be impossible, but a clever plan was devised. The conspirators convinced Greek officials that Epaminondas could help the nation even more if he was transferred from the military into the civil government. They claimed he was the only person talented enough to solve one of their most severe urban problems: waste disposal. They called it “scavenging” and it was an enormously miserable task. The cities were filthy. Everyone agreed Epaminondas was the only man for the job. He was called home from the military and appointed Head Garbage Collector! But Epaminondas was a wise man and he recognized this as merely an attempt to humiliate him. So he nobly accepted the position and set out with great enthusiasm to be the best garbage collector Greece had ever known! He said, “If the position will not reflect glory on me, I will reflect glory on the work.” And he did. The conspirators were foiled by his willingness to enthusiastically accept a challenge and transcend even the most hopeless situation. In a short time, everyone was praising Epaminondas’ achievements as garbage collector.
What I gathered from this story has stuck with me throughout my entire adult life. Whether scrubbing toilets or picking up old people covered in feces, my job is to be the best at what I do. Some call this pride and ownership. As an officer it is our job to make our people the best in the business. Our attitudes and perceptions are infectious in our departments. If we all take a page out of Epaminondas’ book, then that infection won’t be one that corrupts and destroys the foundations of the department and fire service.