As a boy I didn’t pay much attention to making my bed. When I rolled out I might make a feeble attempt to straighten it up a bit, but too often I’d just amble away without giving it a thought. My mindset was, “Who’s going to see it anyway? No one comes to my room. I’m just going to get back in it tonight.”
That changed abruptly for me in July of 1986 when I arrived at the United States Naval Academy as a fresh 17 year-old Midshipman. Inside cavernous Bancroft Hall everyone seemed to be fixated on my “rack”, and how it was made. It had to have perfect hospital corners. The sheets and spread needed to be folded back to precise measurements. There were to be no wrinkles. And by no wrinkles, I mean NO WRINKLES!
My room was way up on the 4th deck. I recall marching by outside on the ground level one day when my squad leader halted the company and told everyone to look up. There was my mattress, standing alone in the window way up there. My squad leader announced to everyone that, “Midshipman Cannon’s rack can no longer take living with such neglect. It appears that his rack is distraught beyond consolation.”
And with that my rack “leaped” out the window and fell to the ground 40 feet below in a frumpled mess.
It took me a long time to learn to make a perfect rack. So the question you may ask is, “Why so much attention to something which seems rather insignificant in the big picture?”
Because it’s about attention to detail… and doing the small things right… and the idea that “making your bed” is just as important as anything else.
In fact, as firefighters who aspire to leadership roles, we “make our beds” all day long in everything that we do… or don’t do. If you are a firefighter who seeks a leadership role in the front seat, you need to be looking ahead at what you will expect of your team, and make sure YOU are doing those things today.
Have you ever worked for an officer who won’t let his crew take a rest during the day even though he napped often when he was a firefighter? Or worked for a Chief who requires diligent station cleaning even though he was the laziest cleaner in the house when he was a firefighter? There is nothing more de-motivating than working for a Captain or Chief who expects things from his or her team that he could not – or would not – do when he was a firefighter on the back. Those officers didn’t properly make their bed when they had the chance.
Even if we don’t have officers’ bugles yet you are “making the bed” that you will sleep in for the rest of your career.
Where can we pay attention to detail at the firehouse?
Start when you drive up to the station. Is there unsightly litter out front? Stop and pick it up before you even go in the station door.
How about when you check your SCBA?
Are the straps situated so they won’t get caught in the seat?
I’ve seen a firefighter get caught up in his seat by his own SCBA strap because it was improperly stowed ( I won’t say who that firefighter was, but he might write articles for Firefightertoolbox and his name might rhyme with Sob Fannon).
How about when you write an email to schedule training?
Is it written with passable grammar?
Are the words spelled correctly? A poorly written email can haunt its author for a long time.
In short, EVERYTHING we do is an opportunity to pay attention to detail. Some of the details will be insignificant in the grand scheme, but collectively they set a climate of excellence.
What if no one sees our good deeds and attention to detail? No big deal. We’ll be richer for our efforts.
But eventually someone WILL see what we’re about.
Eventually someone else WILL see that we took two minutes to make sure ALL the SCBA straps in the truck, even the ones that weren’t on our pack, were properly stowed so that no one gets stuck in the seat.
When that happens; when others learn from our example, well, that’s when those two minutes of attention-to-detail can become transformed into two generations (and beyond!) of positive influence on the fire service.
And that’s no small detail.