The Winner’s Edge: A Survivor’s Mindset is designed to illustrate
and articulate that profound paradigm by exposing three necessary, essential components to help add clarity and confidence to
the firefighter engaged in the battle of his life. By cultivating a
winning attitude, training to ignore distractions, and fostering a
problem-solving competency, firefighters will be better equipped to
endure and thrive if, and when, they one day encounter the “edge”
CAN YOU SEE THE SMOKE?
The fire service does so many things well, training excellently at
several different disciplines. There is no question that firefighters
take pride in mastering their craft and fine-tuning their assistance
to the community. It’s noticeable by all, and as a former police officer who is now a firefighter, I can attest it does not go unwitnessed
in that public servant arena either. However, despite my sincere
praise, I will state with alarming concern there is a threatening
trend that needs our immediate remedying. It is conspicuously
noticeable, and the deficiency is paramount.
Perhaps there is no better place to unearth this issue, demonstrating its need for correction, than at the source, the ground level
where we all begin. In the fire academy, we concentrate heavily
on physical repetitions for creating an atmosphere conducive to
success. Rightfully so, we dedicate hours and energy to building
mechanical muscle memory for all the different tasks expected of
firefighters in their day-to-day operations, which helps prepare
them for their forthcoming online redeployments. Most academies
follow this pattern, and should. Unfortunately, though, where they
stop short is of extreme importance. Very little, if any, noteworthy
effort is devoted to developing the mindset of survival. Recruits are
left lacking the central cog to inspire winning when it truly counts.
In many places of the country, fire departments spend countless
training hours and teaching dollars coaching the “how do I’s” of a
survival setting (from manipulating your body to squeeze between
studs in a wall, to altering your breathing pattern to prolong a
nearly empty bottle by several minutes, to strategically placing
your rescue hook on a window ledge for a rapid and un-belayed
bailout deployment, to devising and implementing intricate and
integral rescue props), but we do not, corporately speaking, focus
any substantial time addressing the “why do I” survive. This is such
a necessary skill set that I am convinced that, if a firefighter does
not possess a MUST WIN attitude in this crisis, he will never even
rise (or sink, depending on your philosophy) to the basic level the
training tactics teach.
Sadly, this problem does not get any better once firefighters
become full-time members of a station house. Eventually, when
everything is said and done, they enter the “live-fire” reps of daily
call loads unequipped to address the clear and present danger: the
practicality of entering an unforgiving life-or-death scenario with
little room for error.
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
In direct comparison, a survivor’s mindset is a principal training
aspect for a police officer. Recalling day one of the police academy,
I am winning this fight! Yeah, I might die in a hospital bed after
this is over, but you will not have killed me. You will be long gone,
dead and cold, before I ever am!”
This attitude, introduced early and reinforced often during the
police academy, was elementary to working and living as a police
officer. My “edge” was carved in stone. I chose to “win” every time;
losing was not an option.
Ironically, this mindset training is mostly foreign in the fire
service. “Why?” I wondered. We firefighters also live in a world of
fatal consequence, and on a “bad day” we too will have a situation
necessitating we fight for survival. Whether it is the fireground or a
conflict with a violent person, we need to triumph! So why are we
not training the mindset to win?
Maybe the priority is lower because it is believed the person’s
natural survival drive will kick in in a time of chaos. I disagree
adamantly. I think that type of approach unfairly takes for granted
that a person’s desire to survive will override the hostile environment he is experiencing. I’m certain, despite how strong that
desire may be, if the person is overwhelmed by emotion, he is
outmatched by his opponent (death). The battle lines need to be
clearly drawn and the “edge” needs to be painfully obvious and
brightly illuminated. When faced with any peril, your decision to
“win” must be a conscious one.
SURVIVING IS NEVER AN ACCIDENT
The conflict between life and death is a war of mental attrition,
and to overcome the erosion you must take the victory personally!
It’s either you win or your opponent wins. Therefore, The Winner’s Edge needs to be deeply engrained in all of us. Living may
happen by chance, taking on a passive aftereffect, but surviving is
active and definitely not coincidental.
Make no mistake, no one wakes up in the morning and proclaims, “Today, for the first time, I will choose to win”; quite the
opposite is true. Winners do wake up resolute to win, but it isn’t
for the “first time”! They’ve been building it into their psychology for a lengthy period of time. As previously mentioned, “I will
win!” is an individual’s singular choice in each episode but, more
accurately stated, winning is a lifestyle muscle that needs frequent
exercise. This muscle, when drilled properly, flexes in numerous
ways throughout a person’s lifetime. Like most muscles, they don’t
simply show up overnight, but over time they become defined.
If we practice winning principles in our everyday shiftwork life,
then we can strengthen that winning way of life, and it will defy
heavy boundaries when we need it most. Each day we arrive for
work, we should look at the subsequent tasks as things that need to
be won. Enough days and tasks combined with this attitude and we
will not even think twice about doing it—it will be second nature.
We will have polished the winning attitude, and we will be equipped
to address any challenge as a true winner.
WINNING, LIKE HISTORY, REPEATS ITSELF
Allow me to briefly explain this contention in another way.
Recently, in one of the most impressive, odds-defying Super Bowls