Why I Teach: Robert Burns

Robert Burns Instructor at FDIC International 2016

In this series, Fire Engineering Senior Editor Mary Jane Dittmar looks at the things that motivated and inspired instructors to present on their topics at FDIC International 2016. Segments will be posted on a regular basis up to and through the conference, April 18-23.

By Robert Burns

Battalion Chief (Ret.), Fire Department of New York

“Leadership in the Real World”

Monday, April 18, 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

The fire service must invest in leadership in the same way IT invests in self-contained breathing apparatus, hoselines, and ladders. Without the “tools” of leadership, we can’t influence behavior. Without effective influence, theories unimplemented are fiction and skills unpracticed are useless.  

I have seen many intelligent and dedicated fire service members develop safety policies and training programs designed to increase our effectiveness and reduce our work hazards. Hundreds of these programs are at FDIC every year. But in our organizations, many of these initiatives are never fully implemented or supported. Some never see the light of day. Others die a slow death from “cultural opposition” or neglect. We seem to be very good at planning and developing, but not at implementing and doing.  

Why? Do we need more technical training with our tools and equipment? No, since technical training opportunities have exploded in the past decade. Is it a lack of motivation to be safety-focused and professional? No. This motivation is everywhere—The Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives, The U.S. Fire Administration, Firefighter Close Calls, Firefighter Near Miss, etc., etc., etc.  

We need quality leadership training to provide our members with the “human skills” they need to effectively influence and lead others in their organizations. I have focused on this program because at the end of the week, we are all going back to the “real world,” the world where academic theories and textbook concepts collide with the realities of human nature and the fire service culture. My goal is to provide our students with the leadership skills that will pass the litmus test of real-world application, under real-world pressures, with real people–the skills that they will need to implement the “cutting edge” work done by the other instructors at FDIC international 2016.

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