By: Captain Marlene Kostyrka, Winston-Salem Fire Department
I recently watched a video of Navy Admiral William McRaven speaking to a college graduating class. In his speech he spoke about becoming a Navy Seal and the importance of making his bed. He goes on to explain that this is a “simple, mundane task” for the individual he was training to be a warfighter.
Making your bed every day will give you a sense of accomplishment,” said Admiral McRaven. “Completing the simplest tasks in life matters and if you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
When I finished watching this video it was quickly apparent to me that this holds true in the fire service as well. We show up at the station each shift eagerly awaiting the first call of the day. While we wait, we check the truck, make sure all the equipment is there and that everything is in working condition. It may get washed and fuel, it may not.
Others grab the broom, sweep the floors of the station, or clean the bathrooms. Many officers feel they have done their time of cleaning and go to the office to start their day of dreaded paperwork. All important tasks, but simple in nature.
Not all things are simple
Then the alarm goes off and the heart rate goes up. It’s a medical call at the same nursing care facility you have gone to a dozen times this week. You slowly make your way to the truck and realize you are going to the same elderly lady in room 620, who is one of the “meanest” old ladies there is.
Upon arriving at the door, you realize this time it is different. The “mean” old lady isn’t so mean today. In fact, she isn’t even conscious.
Now you start to panic. Is the oxygen tank full? Did I replace the King Airway the last crew used? Are the batteries in the AED charged? Your mental checklist goes on and on.
Little things mean a lot
It is the little things that matter. Everyone remembers the big fire they had with multiple saves. The vehicle accident which required three people to be cut out of the car. But what about the routine patient who just wants company?
Or the speech you have to give the children at the local school? What about the child riding in the car next to your fire truck (the one that hasn’t been washed in days) who wants to be a firefighter? What about the family of this little old lady—the one you have been called to so many times and who’s always met you and your crew with sarcasm? Were you ready to engage them in a positive way? Did you pay attention to the details?
Because they’re watching you
As leaders in the fire service, it is your responsibility to “make the bed” every day. You must show up and work harder, with shoes shined, uniform pressed, ready to accomplish the everyday routine tasks. Ready to teach the younger generation that the smallest details matter.
As their leader, you must know the little things better, you must follow the policies and procedures regardless of whether others do not. You must know the most minuscule details of this ever changing job.
It is your responsibility to teach respect, pride, accountability, teamwork, and ownership. You have to encourage and motivate your team to be decision makers by paying attention to the simplest details. As the leader, it is your obligation to pay attention to the little things and hold your crew accountable for their actions. They will never accomplish the big tasks if they have not completed the little things.
Your team “inspects” you every day. If you take one short cut, forget for one moment about the little things, or ignore one failure, the team is not complete. You and they are unprepared and will not hold together when the going gets tough. Just like your bed did not stay together when you forgot to tuck one sheet corner correctly.
Pay attention to the little details and “make your bed correctly” every day. Learn what works to keep it together and work hard to teach others the same principle. Because at the end of the day, it is your bed to lay in.
Will your “bed” stay together or will it fall apart?
Marlene Kostyrka is a Captain in the Winston-Salem Fire Department, in North Carolina. She has fifteen years of experience in the fire service having served as a volunteer firefighter before moving to Winston-Salem where she started as a firefighter and progressed to engineer and then captain.
Captain Kostyrka currently serves in the position of administrative captain working also as the department’s Accreditation Manager. She holds many fire service certifications, has earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science and a Master’s Degree in Executive Fire Leadership and Disaster Preparedness. She enjoys spending time with her four children and husband of 19 years. Captain Kostyrka will enter starting the Executive Fire Office Officer Program at the National Fire Academy in August.
Contact Captain Kostyrka at: firstname.lastname@example.org