Leadership Refined by Fire with John Cuomo

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John Cuomo is a former firefighter and now author of the book Leadership Refined by Fire. It’s a great book that illustrates leadership principles through the lens of a long tenure as a firefighter.

I had a great time digging into some of these ideas, looking at how they apply to the lives of entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, self-funded entrepreneurs, and driven entrepreneurs โ€” people like you and me. I think you’re going to enjoy this one. Let’s get to it.

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Resources Mentioned:

John’s Website

John’s Book

John’s Linkedin

Software Generated Transcription:

Dan: John, welcome to The Meaning Movement Podcast. I’m so excited to have you here with us. Welcome to the show.

John: Thank you, Dan. Thank you so much. I’m super excited here to be with you and also your audience. Thank you.

Dan: Love it. Yes. Uh, the question I like to begin with is how do you begin to talk about the work that you do?

John: Yeah, that’s an interesting question, Dan, because, um, uh, the work I do has been literally ups and downs my entire life. I wasn’t really. I didn’t really want to be a firefighter when I was a young kid. Like you hear a lot of young people say they wanted to be a firefighter until they grew up and they became that, or they had a family member in the service and that’s what they wanted to follow their footsteps.

That was in my trajectory. I had a completely different career that I was, uh, engaged in, and it was really a recession in my local area that made me reach out to look for other opportunities. Once I got into this, once I went to the fire academy as one of those opportunities, I felt an absolute love. Um, so I kind of wished that others would have that exposure because if I never had that recession, I often say if that recession didn’t come in our area, I may never have done the thing that I loved and feel so fulfilled with doing my entire life, because I just never got that exposure.

So I love to talk about it with people. I love to encourage people to get into the fire service. I love to talk to them. Why it’s so important, how they can help other individuals really more about them giving than what the benefits are to themselves. Although I’m, there are many benefits to themselves, but really what they can give to their communities and to our country and, and the wonderful things about that.

I absolutely love discussing that with people.

Dan: I love it. I love it. Often when I talk about these moments in our careers, a career, career crisis, if you will, there’s, there’s a couple different flavors of them. Some are internal where we get to a point where we’re just, feels like what we’re doing isn’t a good fit for who we are, and then there’s.

External that are motivated by things like recession or a, you know, a major family event or some combination where there’s a major event that also kind of changes how we think about, um, ourselves. It sounds like, you know, this pivot for you was a very clearly, like an external, an external reality that that kind of forced you, um, to, to make a move.

Um, and maybe to, I guess just to, to fill that out a little. What is the process for, from becoming aware, like firefighting might be interesting as a, as a career path for you to actually like getting into the academy? Like what was that bit of your journey like?

John: I know there’s many people that like firefighting shows nowadays. I hear people all the time. When I bump into people, they always ask me, do you watch that show? Do you, and actually, I don’t ever watch any, I don’t watch tv. So, On purpose. I just have a busy life doing certain things. Um, so I don’t really watch those shows.

And generally when you’re in the career, whatever career it is, law enforcement, lawyers, doctors, they generally will always tell you the same thing. The shows that portray them are very different than the reality of it. So you’ll watch it and you’re like, ah, this is a little bit different than reality. So maybe that’s a turnoff, but, um, you know, I think that that’s a good spark to get people interested.

And then they should go down to their local fire department and they should ask either to volunteer or do a ride time and see what it’s like. Or even ask, interview some of the firefighters and what their jobs are like. Maybe buy some books. Some firefighters have books on what their, uh, experiences have been and get a flavor of that.

Um, and then, Um, have a better understanding. For me, I didn’t have that. There weren’t any shows. I got into the fire service in 1991, but it was in the late eighties when I started the process. It took me about two and a half years to get in. It was a very difficult process here in South Florida. At the time, I didn’t know anything about it.

I didn’t know how to get in. I didn’t know any anybody was a firefighter. Like I said, I was, there was a recession, and to be honest with you, I was dating a girl that I was crazy about and I wanted to marry her. And when this recession hit I was an electrician at the time and the, and the job, the company went down from 28 people down to four.

And I was one of the four left. And then we were working four day work weeks. We had no insurance and so I recognized I couldn’t have a family, which is what I wanted one day. Um, and, and have these ups and downs, these dips in, in my life it would be very difficult. So I started applying it government type jobs.

Uh, the local electric company, the phone companies, the postal service, and the fire department was one of them. Again, I knew nothing about it, and I would ask all these other individuals. I would go to the electrical people when I’d see ’em on the sideline and I’d. On in the street rather. What do you think about your career?

How do you like it? I’d go to the post office and ask them, what do you think about your career? Every person I asked from every career hated their job. It was the weirdest thing. It’s like, I hate this. Don’t do it. It’s miserable. But every firefighter I asked said they love their job. So I was like, wow, I gotta really check this thing out.

This seems pretty neat. So when I went to my first test, it was a city of Delray Beach. I went to the, the, the written test. I went to physicals. Then you take psychological tests. And then I got up to the, uh, interview and they really liked me. They said to me, look, we really, really like you lot, but in Florida here, you have to get certified.

You can’t, you know, you get your certifications yourself. Then you come and get, you know, hired. And I had nothing. So I didn’t even know what that meant. I went downstairs and I talked to the firefighters and they explained to me, you have to become an em. Then you have to become a firefighter at the fire academy and then you go become a paramedic a lot of times.

Um, so I went, I got the emt, and then when I went to the fire academy, Dan, that’s when I fell in love, you know, I found it and I, I, I recognized, wow, this is what I wanted to do. It was, it was, Literally love it for sight. It never went away. Now I had some difficulties in my career, ups and downs, and that love waned, and I talk about that in my book, and I think that is a situation for anybody.

Everybody’s career kind of has that, what are the ups and downs and how do you handle them? Um, because it was very interesting. I finally got in then after two and a half years and, um, I, I just, I would sit up at night. And I would just look, you know, look up and I’d be like, I can’t believe I’m a firefighter.

You know, I was 21 years old and I was like, this is the greatest thing. Yeah. Now I was gonna be able to marry my girlfriend, which with 30 years later was still married. You know, the love of my life. And, um, yeah. Thank you so much. And, uh, I just was amazed. I just felt this is the greatest job and I can’t believe I finally got in.

I was so excited. I mean, it got so bad that the other firefighters would tell me just to shut up constantly. John shut up, was sick and tired of hearing that shut. They, sometimes they’d wing pillows at me and say, shut up, you know? And, um, but I’d be driving down the, I’d be in the fire range driving down the street and I, and I’d have this big grin on my silly goofy grin on my face.

Like, wow, I’m a firefighter, you know, I. It was just so exciting to me. And then shortly, you know, not three years later, I was sitting around the table complaining about my job, hating it. And, uh, that’s a story, you know, uh, in, in another question if you like. But, um, there were ups and downs and my point is, that’s how I got in.

And, and it, and I came in with that incredible love at that moment for that job.

Dan: Yes. Yes. I love it so much. Um, and I just love that picture. You just, just grinned, grinned on a fire truck, which I know you said it wasn’t like your goal to be a, to be a firefighter when you were a kid, but I know. My kids would love to, if they got to ride around on a fire truck, they’d be, they’d be grinning their faces off too.

So, um, but I love also, you know what you said, like, well, you, you’ve been a firefighter for, for a long time and a very, um, you know, a lot of folks who, who end up on the show, I think because I end up talking to people who have a lot of twists and turns in their career. And like, you had a, you had a, had a pivot, but the pivot happened early.

Um, but. Even in spite of that, it sounds like there, there have been some ups and downs in your relationship with, with your work and, um, I’m curious, you know, one to hear some of those and then two, to get some of your thoughts on how do you stay the course, um, for the long haul like you have.

John: So I got hired and here was this, the end of this two and a half year journey of incredible pressure upon myself. Incredible difficulty. I took test after test, so. Here in South Florida, every city has its own fire department. Then the counties have their own fire department. So while I was working, I would take a, uh, a written test here, and then a physical test at this, and then a psychological test there, and then another written here, and then another psychological, and then a IQ test here.

And it just was back and forth constant trying to get hired at any city. I just wanted to get. And again, the pressure of, I had to have this job before I could ask my girlfriend to marry me. So I was under this tremendous pressure. Then I got hired and, and like I said, it just was this tremendous glee.

And I remember I sat around at the, uh, the first week the chief, uh, you go up to his desk and he sits there and he talks to you about it and he slides your badge over to you and he’s sliding his badge over to me and he says to me, Remember this moment, how you feel right now, because you’re going to need that to get through your career.

And I was like, I didn’t fully understand that. I was like, what is he talking about? Okay, whatever you say, chief, just lemme have that badge. I pin it on here, you know, I’m thrilled. And but boy did those words ring true because there would be times in my career when I. Physically not wanna come to work, you know?

And I would hate what I was doing. Um, and so that rang in my head, those words. And so I, about three to four years into my career, I noticed myself complaining about my job and upset about things. And, you know, I, um, my, I, I bring this out in the book. I, I, I wrote, My wife says to me one time, she goes, you know, you have a really good job.

You know, why are you kind of upset about these things? And I thought to myself at the time, I was like, she doesn’t understand what I go through. She doesn’t know what it’s like at the firehouse dealing with all of these political things and guys and rumors and stuff like that, you know? And I kind of just dismissed her from, you know, because she said that I dismissed those words.

but that wouldn’t be the only time that my wife would help clarify my head on some of the thoughts. Um, and I started thinking about what she was saying and I really started thinking about, yeah, you know what? I love this job. What happened? And I self examined. I did an examination as to what I had gotten, why I got here.

And a lot of it had to do with my association. And, and if you’re a firefighter, and this probably happens in every, every job, but especially if you’re in a firefighter, you’ll definitely understand this, you know, when you get around the table. in the morning, uh, the men and women come in to relieve the men and women that were already on duty.

And they, they, they go over what happened the day before and, you know, so that they give ’em a heads up as to what’s coming, uh, to a degree, you know, this, this, this, this, um, engine is missing. This, this tool is broken. We have a new rule of regulation, whatever it may be. At that table, it becomes like the table full of rumors and negativ.

You sit down, you start hearing all this negativity, people complaining about, oh, the chief wants us to train on this. Oh, the town wants to take money from us. Oh, these residents are upset about this, that, or the other thing. And all of that negativity just starts seeping in and you start it, it gets in and you start thinking about it and dwelling about it and talking about it with others.

And so I recognized that was the beginning of my issue there. So I immediately stopped associating in the morning. I would go out to the engine when I came in and I’d start my job. Or if I was on duty and I was getting off, I’d wait in my bedroom until. Relief came and then I would meet with them and go, go over what they needed to know and then I would take off.

And that began to help. And then one day I was listening to Steven Covey and his, uh, seven Habits, highly Effective Habits, and he discussed that nobody could upset you. You know, if you’re upset, it’s you’ve upset yourself no matter what that external thing is. You allowed it to upset yourself and Dan. It was like a rock that hit me in the head and I fell over, you know?

It was like, okay, the lights came bright. I was like, wow, this. This is so true cuz I was actually listening. I had headphones with a Walkman at the time. That’s how old I am. I used to bring in a Walkman and try to listen to stuff

to try to get my mind off of work while I was working cuz I was upset with certain things and I was trying to, you know, learn how to, but boy that, that really.

It resonated deeply with me, and I recognized this is all about me. This isn’t about anybody else. This is about me.

And so, like I said, I stopped the association. I stopped the negative thinking, and I began to pull myself back into the job, the job that I loved so much. Finding the things that I wanted to do that really were pleasurable, helping people, learning my job really, really well, getting on scenes and being able to help individuals because I.

My procedures really well and I understood the medical cuz at that point in time we were all became paramedics. So we were handling all the ems, um, as well as the fire side. What a pleasure that became, you know, then I was reaching out for promotions and I was learning how to be a driver engineer in the, in the department, and then a lieutenant and the captain, and really just focusing all those things really brought that love back.

You know, you put away that negativity. You don’t allow people to bring you down. You try to excel at your job and, and look for the good points, and it really lifted me back up again.

Dan: I love that. What a powerful, uh, just illustration of, of just the importance of mindset. And I really, I really believe that the way, the way we, we think about the world, the way we, we let the story we tell ourselves, um, you know, dictate our, our our lives. It, it changes. It changes everything. And so, um, just a really powerful story from your own life of, of taking control.

Of what you’re saying and how you’re thinking about what was, you know, your situation and the people you were working with and everything, um, in order to find that joy and reconnect with, with the joy in the work. So yeah. I love that. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that.

Dan: I’m curious, just, um, you know, for, for people, I mean, you’ve, you, how long have you been a firefighter?

Let’s just, let’s just. Let’s, let’s ask that, ask that question, just so, so people know how, how long, how long, how long has your, yeah. Have you had that had been in this career?

John: So I did 24 years and I left after 24 years. My goal was to do 30, which was the max you can do in our department. But I had, I had a really bad neck injury, so I ended up having to get a fusion of a couple of, um, vertebrae, and I was successful after that fusion, getting back to the, the department. But, um, our helmet that we wear is between 10 and 15 pounds.

It’s a leather helmet and. After a while of that weight constantly on my head, I, I just couldn’t do it anymore. The pain I was experiencing was, was tremendous. And I was number one on the list for battalion chief, which was, uh, I was stepping up already into that field, but, um, I was next to be promoted and I waited about a year for it to happen.

And the individual. That was in the position, hadn’t left yet, and I just couldn’t take the pain anymore. It was excruciating and they wanted to do another surgery, so I had to unfortunately leave at that point in time and I’d been out of the service for about eight years. Because of my love. I never left.

I, I, I started, I was writing my book before I left the fire service, but as soon as I got out, I immediately started hitting it really hard and, and I’m hoping now to get back into firehouses all over the country to teach and train and do things like that. So that’s a, a synapsis of my career.

Dan: Yeah. I love it. Thank you for that. Yeah. And um, I wanna, I wanna talk some more about that transition cause I think it feels really, really important. Um, but before we get there, just, just, you know, 25 years, 24 years is, it’s a very, it’s a very long time and especially today when a lot of people switch jobs a lot.

And you’ve already narrated some of, you know, how you’ve kind of reframed your, your. Rediscovered that, that love. But I know a lot of people get to those points in their lives when they’re like, I just want, I just wanna quit. I just wanna do something else. Um, and so I’m curious for you, in those moments, how did you stay and not just say, okay, this isn’t, this is too negative, this place, this place stinks.

I’m gonna go find something else. Or, and maybe why, why did you

John: Yeah, that’s an interesting question, Dan. It’s so interesting. Just before I got on, Chat with you here. I was just reading an article from Mark Cuban, uh, and he was referencing, uh, you’re probably familiar with Steve Jobs in, in, uh, one of his speeches. He said to try to find something that you, you have, um, Passion for that, that, and you will excel at that.

Well, today, you know what, what’s today’s date? September 20th, uh, 2022. Mark Cuban is, is quoted as saying that’s a ridiculous thing, um, that that’s one of the dumbest things you can do. So he’s saying, find something you’re good at or something you’ve been good at, and that’s the best thing to do. So I’m sitting there in my mind and I’m thinking about those two things.

All right. Here’s two individuals that have accomplished great things in their life, right?

Dan: Yep.

John: Diametrically opposing opinions as to what to do for your career and, and your audience and myself and you, all of us are gonna face these things in our life. What is the true answer? So I, I was really meditating on it and I thought to myself, you know, they’re really both right in a way because you.

Yes, if you’re just compassion, I mean, passionate about something like, you know, I like gardening, for example. I, I really like it a lot. I, I can’t make any money on it that I could tell you for sure not here in Florida. You know, I mean, I, I, I get some tomatoes outta the ground. I get some eggplant and some fruit.

I love it, my bananas, but I, I, I would be poor doing that, you know, so I need to do something different. But, but if you boil down what Cuban’s saying to, okay, what am I good at? But if you boil down to the core of what is your passion, Then it will help you. So the fire service was a difficult thing at times, and what I did was, and I didn’t even realize I was doing this.

When I hit those difficult moments, I boiled it down to what is it that I really want to do in my life? And what I found out is I loved helping people. I genuinely loved helping people. If you read my chapter on customer service, you’ll see some of the things I went overboard to do. If I could do that day in and day out, if I could get back there and just do that right now, I would do it for free.

I loved helping people. We were the fire service. We had the best tools known to mankind. We had the education to be able to come into your house when you called 9 1 1 and, and meaning your life was at a very, very difficult moment at this point in time. And we came to your rescue. We came to help you if you were having a fire, if you were having a hazard material, if you were having a heart attack or another medical emergency, if you got into a car.

We were the ones there saving you, saving your children, saving your loved ones. I loved that. So when I got into those difficult moments, I had to reflect on, why do I want to be a firefighter? Why do I want to do this job? And it was going down to the core. It wasn’t, oh, I want this paycheck, I want this retirement, or I like these hanging out with these guys and stuff.

The core was, I love helping. I absolutely love helping people. Now, could I find another job that I think would help me to help people more? Well, maybe I could, I don’t know. But I know this job had tons of opportunities. And so what I would do at that moment is I say, okay, John, now reflect on those opportunities.

How can I be better at what I did? And the first thing I felt was I had to be in charge of my crew. Because when you’re a firefighter, You come in on a day to day basis and you have a first line officer. In some departments it’s a lieutenant, some departments it’s a captain, and then you from there, uh, those officers respond to what’s called a battalion chief, and that those battalion chiefs respond to an assistant chief.

He responds to a chief, and then that chief responds to the town manager usually. So this hierarchy that way. You can’t control your day. If you’re a firefighter. You go in and you have to do what the lieutenant tells you, okay, we’re doing this today, we’re doing that today. If you get on a scene, you can help a person to a certain degree, but you can’t go too far out of the way if the lieutenant doesn’t wanna do so.

So my first act is I recognize I had to be in charge of the crew. I had to be a lieutenant at least in order for me to make an effective change of what John Palmer wanted to do. And so I reached out to do that and I, and when I got promoted, From then on the career was very, very different from me, for me, um, because now I control my day to day business every single day.

And I had a tremendous effect on the crew members that I, that I served with. I taught them the very things that I liked, and of course, at first there was difficulties there. I didn’t know what I was doing. In, in, in the fire service, there isn’t a thing where, okay, you’re a firefighter and now we’re gonna train you to be an officer.

Even though I was stepping up constantly for years. You didn’t get training on how to deal with personnel. How do you do, uh, evaluations? How do you deal with residents when you bump into, there’s none of that today. You’re a firefighter. You take a test tomorrow and here’s a badge. Now you’re a lieutenant and you have to figure out a lot of those things on your own.

And, um, I discussed one of my biggest problems in, in, in the book that I had. My very first driver, he was a very, uh, senior man. And I didn’t know this at first, but he resented the fact that I was his officer dictating the day and he had to listen to me a, a much junior guy in the department. And I also thought that I was doing the right thing by being just the nice guy.

You know, I didn’t want to go down the route of discipline when things were needed. I just wanted to be able to talk to the guys and say, Hey, let’s try to do this different and this different. And when you have an individual like that who is intentionally. Problems in the department or with your crew because he’s not happy that you are in charge.

It takes more than just a conversation, sometimes a conversation that is all that’s needed with this individual. More was needed, but I was resistant against going down that road. Then when I finally realized I had to go down that disciplinary road, I went too far. So it took me time to figure out what I was doing.

But ultimately, to answer your question, I would say if you’re, if you’re stressed or you wanna change or you’re unsure about the, the job that you’re in, I would examine yourself individually and say, what is it at my core that I want to do? Okay. I’m, I’m doing this for, this is my job, but is my core to help human beings.

Is it to help people mentally? Some people get into the mental field of, of help and, and maybe that’s what they really like doing, you know, so I would do that. I would do some self examination, look at your life and see where you were the happiest when you were doing certain things. You may still be able to do that within the career you’re in, or it may, may require you to, to make a change.

Dan: I love it. That’s great. Great advice. And it, it is, so often I find when, when people, you know, they find me, they find my work, they, they think, well I need to, you know, totally change careers cuz you know, cuz I, I’m burnout and my job, you know, is, is horrible, et cetera, et cetera. Um, but so often it is an internal shift that happens that allows you to then experience.

Present work in a different way or to make changes like you’re suggesting within, within your work. Um, and one, one, You thought that came to mind, just thinking about your, your process of doing that in your own careers versus someone who might just abandon ship to go somewhere else? Is that idea that you know, where wherever you go, there you are.

Right? And if you don’t get your, your, your mind and your thinking straightened out, you’re just gonna end up in the same situation, but with different, you know, at a different, uh, career path in a different organization or whatever it might be. So I think it’s

John: I was thinking about this line one day, Dan, that applies to this. People use the, the statement, the grass is always greener on the other side, you know? And they say that’s not always the case. But if you’re looking over the fence and you see the grass is greener than yours, instead of trying to get over the fence.

Add some fertilizer to your grass, add some

water, and maybe your grass will get greener. You know? And, and, and by doing that, what you are doing is you’re examining your own core and you’re saying, okay, let me fix my grass before I jump over to his grass, which I’m not sure if it’s really greener.

Dan: I love that. What a great reframing and such a good challenge. And, and you know, I hear you doing that in, you know, in, in your career it’s you, you started with yourself and then you, you started leading your team differently, um, which is, you know, um, watering, watering your own grass. So

John: That’s it. yeah,

Dan: that, for that

John: No worries.

Dan: So I imagine, as, you know, with, with your injury and then needing to, to leave, um, I mean it just feels like a big, a big departure and. I’m curious, I’m, I’m even sure what the, the question is here, but, um, it feels like there’s a lot of, I would assume there’s a lot of loss, a lot, lot that you had to give up of, of your hopes for where you, where you were going, but you just were at a place where you had to give it up.

And I’m just curious to hear some of your reflections on, on how you’ve wrestled with that transition.

John: You know, it’s, it wasn’t easy. It still isn’t in many ways. I think for any individual that does any job for a very long time. And, and, and like I said to you, I was 21 when I got hired, so really that was my entire life. You know, I did electrical for a few years beforehand, but really my life was the fire service and then it was something I had a great love for.

And then it was something that you had great responsibility in helping others. Stepping away from that was very, very difficult. It was, uh, it was an incredible challenge. Um, but I was blessed that I had such a good family life. I had two young boys and a wife that I’m crazy about and enabled me to be with them all the time, you know, and so that alleviated some. But of course you have to mentally get your mind wrapped around these things. You know, this, this is, you define yourself as this, you know, you become that. And I actually talk about that. Um, again, I hate to keep refrain referring to my book, but I actually talk about that because it helps you become better at your career anyway.

Like I, I mentioned the, the, the Navy Seal, um, Chris, Kyle, one of the, The greatest, uh, snipers that America’s ever had. And I, I noticed in his book, uh, American Sniper, that he. Talked about. He’s a seal. He’s a seal. Everything he says, he’s on the seal, wants a seal, always a seal. And he always wanted to be a cowboy.

But once he became a Navy seal, that’s what he was until the day he died. And even when he left the seals, he always referred to himself as a seal. And I kind of like to think of myself that even though I’m not there, I’m still that way right now. I’m still a firefighter at heart. I’m still doing my best to help the fire service.

I’m hoping I can use this opportunity to get out there and get into other depart. Help other officers, um, see the mistakes that I made avoid those mistakes that, that I made better themselves up the chain so that they, when they lead their crews, they’re in a great example for others. Do tremendous customer service.

I’m a big believer in customer service. We serve our communities. So if I could serve that way, I try to keep my mindset that I’m still in the game. I’m still part of it. Yes, I do miss getting in that engine. I still had that goofy smile the rest of my life. You know, I, I, I always felt like when I stuck my bunker gear on, that’s the firefighting.

I always said this, I felt like Superman. I, I would, could walk through a wall. I, it never meant matter to me and I was a little bit too crazy at times. Um, but, you know, I loved it. I absolutely loved it. So yeah, it’s not easy walking away from that, but if I can stay close to it and, and try to inspire some men and women in the service, uh, to get, get, get past their lull.

See the beauty in the service and and helping others, then that’s what I’ve tried to continue to keep my mind focused on.

Dan: I love it. Well, it sounds like. Yeah, it sounds like you’ve shifted, you know, from, from being in, in the service to serving, to serving the service or serving the servers, um, which, which is really, really a beautiful transition. Um, I think your, your book is super fun. I have it here, uh, leadership Refined by Fire.

Um, and maybe, you know, before I have some of my reflections on it, just curious, you know, for you just to, to share with listeners, like what was your intent to put the book and who is the book for?

John: Initially because I made mistake. The, the title of the book is Leadership Refined by Fire. Initially, I didn’t explain. What that title meant. But then after my wife let read my last edit, she’s like, John, you’re not explaining what the book, why you’d pick this title. The title was because it was about me.

My leadership was refined by my mistakes, the problems that I ran into the, the areas where I had difficulties and what I learned from it. And so that’s what I kind of, I started writing all these things down in my career. This is the mistake I made, like I said about that first driver engineer, what I learned about that whole mistake, how I mis handle.

He wasn’t a good driver, no doubt about that. But it doesn’t matter. You’re gonna get your good drivers and your bad drivers. You have to be the good officer. You have to be the good leader. So I started writing down those notes about seven or eight years before I left, um, the department. And I just thought, you know, if someone had written a book like this that I could have.

And it would’ve helped me make past so many mistakes. It would’ve helped me during my lulls, it would’ve helped me. As you read the book, you’ll see it’s really self-reflective. You know, it’s really all about you reflecting on yourself and fixing these issues in you. And then when you do that, People will respond around you.

So it actually has helped me in my personal life, Dan. It’s helped me as a father. It’s helped me as a friend. It’s helped me as a son. All these qualities and things that I’ve read and learned about and then incorporated in the book made me a much better man than I ever was. And so I realized, you know, these are good qualities.

I, I think other people would appreciate this. And so I wanted a book to book together. For that reason, um, I wanted other firefighters to be able to say, you know what, let me look through this. And wow, you know what, this is a good area or this is a, you know, something I could work. And I wrote it almost like a reference so that you can not only read it once, but you could always go back.

The chapters are separated in certain ways. So in the beginning your career, you might not have a problem with another person, but you might look at, watch other people telling rumors. Well, there’s a chapter on rumors that you can go and reflect on. You may hear people being a little dishonest. Um, you know, I tell a story about an individual coming up to me and asking me to lie.

Um, I was an officer and, um, I’m working in the back of the station and I’m putting together training prop. I, I did a lot of training and I like to build props to help, uh, the department train and this guy comes up to me and he says, um, I hurt my hand last shift. That was like three days ago. Cause each shift is every third day.

Um, I heard my shift, my hand last shift. Can you sign the paperwork that says I heard it today so that I could apply for. And I said, did you heard a last shift? He said, yeah. I said, so you’re asking me to lie for you? And he said, yeah, but I could tell his counting it’s changed. Like he begun, became irritated with me cuz I brought that up and I said, well just put down that, you know, it happened today and then, you know, let’s put it in the right way.

And he’s like, well then they’re gonna deny. And I said, listen, you don’t know they’re gonna deny it. We don’t. And even if they. Then you, you still have health insurance that you can have in sick time if you, if you can’t perform your job, you have those things, but at least you didn’t lie. You don’t wanna lie.

And he was like, so what kind of brother? He asked me, are you, so he starts using the brotherhood. We always, that’s a big thing in the fire service, the family, the brotherhood. And I said, wait a minute. Hold, hold on, let me, so you are asking me to put my career on the. My family’s financial income, my reputation, all on the line, delight for you because you simply didn’t fill out the paperwork last day when you supposed to.

Is that what you’re asking me? And then he storms off. He doesn’t even answer. He just storms off. He says, forget it. So I just yelled to him, listen, just write the paperwork, right? I’ll sign it. He comes back to me like, uh, an hour later and he says, uh, the battalion chief, who was my boss at the time, he says, the battalion chief is on the phone for you.

Now, that wasn’t unusual. Um, the battalion chief checks in every day. What do you need? What’s going on? You know? So I go in there, I didn’t think anything. I’ve gotta talk to him. I get on the phone, he says to me, Hey, I need you to sign that paperwork. So the battalion chief was friends with this firefighter, and the firefighter called him.

He went above my head and called his buddy and told him what was going on. I said to the battalion chief, I said, listen, do you know he’s lying, right? And he says, yes, but it’s not a big deal. I said, that is a big deal. You don’t wanna teach people to lie, you know? So I said, finally, there are times in your career when you have to make a stand.

You can’t do what you know, what you’re told to do. And that was one I did. I said to my boss, listen, I’m not gonna sign that. If you wanna sign it, go for it. I don’t suggest you do it, but, and you can write me up because in the fire service, you cannot deny. So, um, I said, you can write me up if you wanna write me up, but I’ll gladly sign it the right way.

I’m not gonna lie and put my reputation and my career on the line, you know, so he was aggravated with me and that caused a division between us, the rest of our career, unfortunately. But, um, the firefighter would come back and say he would do it the right way cuz he was forced to now, and I signed it and.

You know, I met with him that night and I said to him, listen, don’t ever go above my head like that again, number one. And number two, more importantly, don’t lie. You’re gonna lose your job if you keep doing this. And if you think it’s okay to lie like this, you’re eventually gonna get caught. We didn’t see each other cuz he wasn’t my normal crew member, but we didn’t see each other for the next couple years.

And then he calls me on the phone one day and he says, I like frantic. And he is like, I need some help. I need some help. And I was like, what’s going on? He goes, I have, I’m under investigation for. And they, you know, they’re trying to fire me. What should I do? So I said to him, listen, go, go in there and tell the truth.

Whatever it is, tell the truth.

 They’ll appreciate it. And hopefully nothing bad happens. But I, I don’t know what else to say to you now. I thought it was weird, Dan, that he was calling me cuz we didn’t really have a relationship. But I guess, you know, maybe because of my reputation in the department, I don’t know, whatever it.

They ended up terminating him. I found out later they were terminating him anyway. They had caught him in so many lies. He was done. And um, but my point is this times like that. So you don’t necessarily have to be an officer. You could just be a firefighter at the time of y career and you’re seeing these things.

These are good lessons to learn. You know, always do the right thing. Don’t lie. Try to be humble. You know, don’t get engaged in the rumors. These are things that firefighters deal with all the time. Then when you’re an officer, it just compound compounds it. So I tried to write the book that way to help an officer to lead, but also for them to have a reference guide to go back over and over again.

And to be honest with you, everyone, that many people, I shouldn’t say everyone, that’s a, uh, um, wide range statement, but many people that have, have read the book have contacted me back and said this book is more for even more than for just firefighters. Anybody in business and stuff like that can use that.

And I was happy to hear that. So I think that’s the way I kind of wrote the.

Dan: Yes, I, I couldn’t agree more. And I was gonna say exactly that, like the, the stories and, and, um, examples are of course, like through your lens as a, as a firefighter. But, uh, but the principles are, are much more universal principles and it’s really, um, you know, it’s a book, you know, maybe, maybe firefighters will be, um, a, an audience that hopefully will, will, will pick it up because it’s written by a firefighter.

But I think it. Appeals to, to everybody because of the, the universe universality of, of what you’re talking about here is really, really fun. Um, yeah, fun piece that you’ve put together. So, um, I love it. I love it. As you think, um, about, you know, think forward about, about your career and, and you know, the book and, you know, serving firefighters, I’m curious what, how you think about words like legacy and.

I don’t know if you use words like, um, purpose or fulfillment or, or calling, you know, any of those kinds of words when it comes to your career. How do you think about those at, at this moment in your life?

John: It’s funny you should ask me that then, because I didn’t, I didn’t give you a full answer on the question you asked me before. Um, and there was a reason why I didn’t, you asked me why I decided to write this book, so yes, I decided to put it together for the sake of helping the fire service. But there was another, there was another background piece to that that I didn’t expound on, and I wasn’t sure if it was really relevant.

but since you asked me that question, I’ll tell you this. The biggest reason I put it together and wrote it was for the sake of my children. So I’m a firefighter. Um, I’ve done many other things in my career. Uh, I’ve had some other side businesses. I’ve, I was the pension representative for the department, so I got all my series licenses and I managed money and did all these different things, but I’m not a.

Never did that before. Never wrote a book, you know, never had any idea about writing a book, but I wanted to always show my children that you can do anything you want, whatever you put your mind to. You can do that Now for a regular writer, it wouldn’t have taken them 15 years like it took me, but I wanted to show them that.

Look, if no matter how skilled you are at something, you can get there. I read hundreds of books on this subject. And you’ll see I probably have a couple hundred quotes in there from different individuals. I put pieces from everywhere I could, things that would apply, things that happened in my life, things that happened in my career, things that great leaders throughout history went through and how that would apply.

So I wanted to show them that this is something that you can do. And I thought to myself, you know, this is always gonna be here. My children will always have a book, their dad. My grandchildren have a book that their grandfather wrote. Whether they know me real well or not, my great-grandchildren will know that their great-grandfather wrote this book, and, and since I started that, I’m actually halfway through a secondary book right now on ptsd.

Because, uh, at the end of the book, there’s a chapter on mental health and I dug much deeper into that. So I’m actually writing a secondary book right now on PTSD and working through those things. So I would kind of say that’s part of the legacy, Dan, that I wanted to really leave for my family. Something that they can have and say, yeah, my dad or my granddad or great-granddad did this.

And then the other part is I do genuinely, absolutely love the fire service and I want to put my mark. The fire service. One of my issues when I got into the fire service was, I’m, I’m, I’m a mover and a shaker. It’s like, I see something wrong. Let’s fix it. Let’s do this, let’s do that. The fire service is a traditional based business.

They base themselves on traditions and there’s some beauty about tradition. There’s some fantastic things that stuff they’ve been doing for hundreds of years, you know, and that’s awesome to be a part of that tradition. But at the same time, that slows progress. So, And so some of the progress, as you know, probably minorities, having minorities and women in the fire service, this is not progress.

That’s come very easily. It’s very slow. Some of those things have to be changed, um, uh, you know, more quickly and things like that. So, and there’s other things too. Uh, customer service, treatment of those that we lead, um, these kind of things have to change. Um, a little more quickly, so I’d like to put my mark on the fire service that way as well.

So I would say that would be the two legacies, mostly more for my family and stuff, and then also for the fire service

Dan: Yeah. That’s great. Well, I think it’s a really smart way to go about it, and I, I can see, you know, as you’re creating resources like this for other firefighters, just as just a really, um, you’re creating tools, you’re, you’re giving, you’re giving them tools to make the kind of change that you, that you, you hope to make.

And so, um, I’m, I’m. I love it. It’s just really, um, feels really, really meaningful. So, um, I’m, I’m, I’m glad you’re out there doing, doing the good work for folks that want to, uh, you know, connect with you and, and follow along with what you’re doing. Is there anything, um, as, as we move towards wrapping up, is there anything that you’d like to invite people to?


John: Well, they’re welcome to get a copy of my book and I would love their feedback on it. Um, so the book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles anywhere you want to go for it. And then I have my own website, which is FD leadership. Dot com, www.fdasinfiredepartmentleadership.com. And there I have a contact and I really wanna stay in touch with as many firefighters as I possibly can.

I’m also on LinkedIn, um, under my name. Um, I wanna get feedback from them as well, you know, because I am getting out there more and more and I’m gonna have more interaction with other departments. I wanna tailor all my stuff towards what they really feel they need, what they see, um, or stuff that they really appreciate, let’s say in the book or things that I say, if they say this really highlighted a big point, I would love to know that.

So, uh, that’s where I could, you know, bring that up more often. So I would love to hear from them. Or if my, even if my book had any kind of impact on them, I would love to know that. That’s always, you know, when you, I, I have hundreds of cards still from, uh, customers that I served when I was in the fire service, people that wrote into the fire department thanking me for, uh, the things I’ve done for them.

Um, and I loved that. It really was, it meant a lot to me. I kept them to this day, you know.

Dan: Yeah.

John: and so if firefighters, if, if I have any impact on them and they wanna let me know, I would love that too, as.

Dan: I love it. Well, I’ll make sure to link up to your, your website and your book and your LinkedIn and the show notes so people can click on through and, um, and follow along. Thank you John so much for this. It just been so fun to connect and, and to hear your story. Thanks for coming on with me today.

John: Yeah. Thank you. And Dan, one last thing, uh, your audience as well, even if they’re not firefighters, if it has something to do with them and it it affects them in their business or their life, I would love to hear it as well. You know, everybody doesn’t have to be firefighters related, so thank you so much.

I love talking to you and I really appreciate your time.

Dan: Thank you, John.

John: Thank you.

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