In the final chapters of The Art of War, Sun Tzu discusses the use of fire as a weapon, and the utilization of spies to bring victory. In war, fire was used to burn soldiers in their camp and destroy supplies, fuel, and weaponry. Sun Tzu makes the point that, in order for fire to be a useful tool, the supplies for creating fire must always be kept available.
In order to carry out an attack, we must have means available. The material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness. -Sun TzuIn the modern fire service we have many tools available to us. Tools for the suppression of fire, prevention of fire, and the rescue of victims. However, for these tools to be most effective they must be available and ready to use. As firefighters, it is our responsibility to be aware of the most current tools and tactics for the completion of our tasks. We must know what tools are available. Those tools must be kept ready. The knowledge for using the tools must be kept sharp.
Do we know what tools and equipment is available? Do we know what tools and equipment our specific department/unit has available? Are those tools properly maintained and ready to be deployed when needed?
The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources. -Sun TzuThe act of pre-planning and being aware of the needs of your operation and community, will allow the "ruler" to ensure that the proper tools, equipment, and resources will be available. It is the leaders responsibility to plan and prepare, not just for the current needs of the community and department, but also for the future. The leader must take time to examine and reflect and get a sense of where the community is headed and what its needs will be.
To "cultivate" is to prepare and use, and acquire and develop. We must be cultivating tomorrows resources today. When tomorrow comes, with its emergencies and needs, it will be too late to prepare and plan, obtain equipment, or train personnel. The leader must look forward and prepare for tomorrow's unseen emergency, right now.
Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. - Sun TzuThe more we know about the communities we protect, the better prepared we can be. The time to learn about new technology, new industrial processes, or new structures or building methods, is not when we respond to it for the first time, but well in advance, in the pre-planning stages.
A key to gaining foreknowledge in our communities is in the relationships that we build. Sun Tzu lists 5 kinds of spies that must be utilized if victory is to be obtained. These 5 types of spies can be applied to the types of relationships that we must foster.
Local spies. Foreknowledge of a community and its coming needs can be found by understanding the communities history. Building relationships with long-term residents and community leaders is essential. By understanding its history and the goals a picture of the future of the community can be formed. From this picture, plans for future department needs can be determined.
Inward spies. When it comes to new technology, processes, or materials, the representatives and users must be consulted. As leaders we must be secure enough to humble ourselves and know that we do not know every detail about everything. We must turn to the experts in the technology, process, or materials. These experts are passionate about their product, and can tell you every nuance about it. It is the firefighters job to apply the product knowledge to practical application of fire prevention or fire suppression.
Converted spies. The fire service must look outside of itself in order to adequately plan for the future. We must work collaboratively with other organizations (non-profit, law enforcement, engineering, mutual aid departments, etc.). What do these organizations see in the future? How does the fire department fit into their plan? How do they fit into the fire department plan?
Doomed spies. There are those individuals who seem to have given up. These are the ones who have seen the history, seen plans made (or not), and still experienced failure. These may be the disgruntled ones. In talking to these individuals much can be gained by understanding their mindset, and what they have seen. The 'exit interview' is critical component of human resources. Every leader should engage leaving employees in an exit interview. It is in these exit interviews that the employee will potentially be most honest. The feedback received will show current areas of weakness in the department, and allow proper future plans to be put into place.
Surviving spies. In magazines, books, conferences, and classes the fire service has a wealth of knowledge to draw from. By knowing the stories and lessons learned from those who have experienced what we are experiencing or have been where we are planning to go we can establish foreknowledge of what to expect. It is from these "voices from the future" that we can adequately plan, prepare, and cultivate the resources that will be needed.
The five keys to victory in fire ground leadership, that we can garner from Sun Tzu and this series of articles are:
- Prevention - the truest victory is in avoiding the battle
- Leadership - the leader must do the hard task of leading his troops
- Training - the troops must have access to needed resources and pre-planning and train and exercise their use
- Tactics - quick victory is key, and can only be achieved through the use of proper tactics
- Responsibilities - everyone has a role to play, it takes everyone doing their specific function to be victorious
Other articles in this series: