What's wrong with being a fool?
An excerpt from Lt. Bob Pressler's(Ret.) speech at the 2nd Annual FOOLS Convention
An excerpt from the article "Less Diversity is Needed in the Fire Service"
What's wrong with being a fool?
Yuba City Fire Department, CA
Vice President, FOOLS International
Webster's Online Dictionary refers to a fool as a person who lacks good
judgment or is gullible and easy to take advantage of. Although I don't like to
argue with Mr. Webster, I know a lot of FOOLS that are quite the opposite. In
fact, I think FOOLS are some of the best people in the fire service today.
The FOOLS, or the Fraternal Order Of Leatherheads Society, is a firefighting
organization that was started back in the mid-'90s by a group of Florida
Firefighters. The organization focuses on the training and pride in the fire
service. Today, this international organization has a membership of roughly
11,000 firefighters representing over five different countries. The mission of the
five "Founding FOOLS" was to attempt to preserve the rich traditions of the fire
service, such as training, remembering fallen brothers and sisters, being proud of
the job, and passing information on to the next generation of firefighters. By
preserving these traditions, the FOOLS have helped return some of the luster
back to the fire service.
I joined the FOOLS in 2002 and was amazed at the sense of camaraderie among
the members. It didn't matter if you were a big city firefighter or a six-month
volunteer; you were all there for the same reason: to learn, to teach, and to
share information. There were no egos. There was only a sense of pride that
made you want to do more for your department, your company, and your
The FOOLS have been key players in major fire service training events across the
country for many years. Many lead instructors at FDIC and other fire conferences
are FOOLS. Many local FOOLS chapters have their own training sessions several
times a year.
Unfortunately, there have been some misconceptions about what the FOOLS are
about. Some say the FOOLS are just a social group or a "good ol' boys" club. I
am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Local media
have sometimes tried to tie the FOOLS into fire department "scandals" and
affiliate the group with people that have made poor choices. I am not saying that
there haven't been FOOLS that may have made poor choices, but being a FOOL
had nothing to do with these choices. If anything, I hope that being a FOOL has
deterred people from making bad choices.
Some people also think that the FOOLS are anti-management, but this is false.
We are proud to have chiefs as members of the organization. Some very
influential chief officers are members.
The FOOLS is not a political group, nor do we get involved in union or
management issues. However, we do proudly participate in and sponsor
charitable events, such as Relay for Life, St. Baldrick's, and Hero to Hero. One
constant in the fire service is that always give back and do more for our
communities than almost any other professional organization. The fire service
has always been a pillar of the community, and the FOOLS organization strives to
maintain this tradition.
The FOOLS do a lot of great things for the fire service, many of which may never
get noticed. That's okay; we don't do it for the recognition; we do it for a sense
of pride and "doing the right thing". Our members are proud members of the fire
service and we are proud of that.
I encourage you to do some research on the FOOLS. Perhaps you have a
misconception of the group yourself. Maybe you are already a member. Either
way, thank you for being a member of this wonderful fire service. I hope that
this article has enlightened you a little about what the FOOLS are all about.
For more information about the FOOLS, visit our Web site at
An excerpt from Lt. Bob Pressler's(Ret.) speech at the 2nd Annual FOOLS Convention:
"Good evening Brother and Sister FOOLS; I want to thank the Palm Beach County Fools, the International FOOL's E-Board, and especially Jon Ferguson, who had to deal with me, for the honor of addressing this group. Not to mention for helping me escape the beginnings of winter at home, where we just happened to get our first measurable snow this morning. The 82 here is a little better than the 28 at home.
A lot has happened over the last 14 months, to the Fire Service, and to the FOOL's, both here as across the country. Nationally, the Sep't 11 disaster, and locally the training tragedy, cost the fire service and the FOOL's many Brothers, including the 4 we just attended a memorial service for. Throughout these hard times, the FOOL's have always been there, with words of encouragement, as a shoulder to cry on, or just a sounding board to vent at. After Sep't 11, the FOOL's site had the most up to date information on who was working, who was missing and who had been seen.
The FOOL's Website has become a place to stop and check on the pulse of the Fire Service.
Every time I am visiting the FOOL's site, I am always drawn to what I call our "signature" FTM-PTB; EGH; RFB; KTF.
This group of letters, assembled over time, has become a platform for us to live by. I would like to share some of my thoughts on these letters and what they mean to me.
The Fire service, as a whole is collectively still trying to recover from the effects of Sep't 11. The 343 members of the FDNY who made the supreme sacrifice that day will always be in our hearts and forever on our minds. As part of our FOOL's "signature", R-F-B, "Remember Fallen Brothers", these heroes should never and will never be forgotten. This should also include ALL of our fallen Brothers, no matter where they were from, or the matter in which they died. Their names have been added to long list of those that have laid down their lives so that others may live.
And although "EGH", Everybody Goes Home" is not always possible, it is a part of what we strive for. It is why we train, it is why we read, it is why we interact with each other. We need to share the knowledge. The more we share, the more we pass on what we have learned, the safer we will be. The fewer funderals we will have to go to, the more of our Brothers and sisters that will go home. Because it is all about protecting each other.
We are each other's keepers, and FTM-PTB is our motto. F>> The Mutts, Protect the Brothers. And make no mistake about it the Mutts are everywhere. In NYC, the sacrifices on 9/11 have already been put on the back burner as the politicials line up to make budget cuts, close companies and not pay a fair wage to the Brothers and Sisters of the FDNY.
In California, a Chief has gone on the rampage about the length of his peoples' mustaches. It just so happens that there are the motivated people in his organization, the ones that have started at campaign about Company pride and tradiition. This is his answer to pride and Brotherhood. His Department is in turmoil, but the written reprimands about hair length will certainly help boost moral and keep the Department running smoothly. He has become a new Nero, fiddling while his "Rome" burns down.
Everywhere we look there are mutts that cannot, will not, or don't want to understand the Brotherhood of the Fire service.
The last part of our signature is KTF, or Keep the Faith. With all that has happened we must believe. We must have faith in ourselves and in the others that think like us. They can transfer us, they can make you cut your mustache, they can tell you what you can't wear on your helment, but never let them break your spirit!
The best part about the FOOL's is that this is a group of people that wants to be part of an organization that doesn't owe anyone anything. From its humble start, a couple of guys with a vision of what the Fire service meant to them, started an organization. Now in the history of the fire service there have been hundreds of organizations that have started and then fallen by the way side.
But this group seemed to be a little different. I remember Mike Stallings telling me at Indy, that he and a couple of guys had this group; a group of guys that were interested in the history and the tradition of the "Job". To try to keep the spirit alive, they were forming an organization, and the name was the FOOL's! And I am saying to myself, yeah Fools!!! But from this unusual beginning, we sit here tonight with Brothers and Sisters from all over, attending a National Fools convention.
I am proud to be a FOOL. I have belonged to many organizations within the Fire Service, but none with a mission like this one. In NYC we called ourselves the Fire 500. We figured that our of the almost 12000 members of the FD, there were maybe 500 of us that cared about the History and tradition of the job. And it always seemed liek the numbers were shrinking. Other FD's laughed that they had the Fire 30, or the Fire 1, depending on how bad things seemed to be. But now we have the Fire 1000's. And the name has been changed to the FOOL's.
And make no mistake about it; this organization has a voice! One of the reasons is because we do not have to answer to anyone but ourselves. We are not here to make money; we are not here to bargain for raises for our membership, we are not here to run a business. We have no hidden agenda. We are here to preserve the history, the tradition and the brotherhood of the fire service. We are here for each other"
Captail Kelly B. Jernigan
Winston-Salem Fire Department, NC
The following is an excerpt from the article "Less Diversity is Needed in the Fire Service"
Firefighters are people of all races, religions, walks of life-male and female-who live their lives for the fire service. They are the people who dreamed their whole lives about becoming firefighers or have been introduced to the lifestyle and fell in love with it. Firefighters are the ones who take the extra initiative to produce and conduct training, constantly learn new things about the fire service, and make suggestions on how to make the job safer and more efficient. Firefighters are the ones who worry about brotherhood and watching out for their fellow firefighters at all costs. Firefighters are the ones you want beside you when it hits the fan deep inside a building, when you are searching for the small child or elderly person and the smoke, heat, and fire are banked down so low it feels like your body is going to melt. Firefighters will be there with you until the end.
Firefighters when deciding to advnace up the career ladder, will study promotional materials during every spare moment. They prepare for the tests and most do well. but if they don't, they blame no one but themselves, knowing that even though they may not be good test takes, they should have prepared more and studied harder. And by doing this, the next time they will do better.
Even as chiefs or company officers, it shows if your heart is in the fire service. Chiefs and company officers whose first love is the fire service are the ones who know the fire department is unlike any other department in the city. The fire department doesn't bring in as much revenue as the police department or Collections, but it is a necessity.
Fire officers who fall into this category are not afraid to ask for what their people need. they are not afraid to be the rogue avengers, to take on the city managers and convince them what the department needs to be the best and the safest. They are the ones worried about the times when we have to make split-second decisions and knowing they are the right decisions, not about the things that we can go back and look up while sitting behind a desk.
FIRE DEPARTMENT EMPLOYEES
On the other hand, you have the people who work for the fire department. These are people who saw the ad in the paper for the fire department agility test and decided maybe working for city government would b ebetter than working at a fast food restaurant. fire department employees are also people of all races, religions, and walks of life-male and female. These are the employees who arrive at work at the last minute, abuse sick time, and never read or study to better themselves. They are the ones who do just enough to get by. they can usually quote verbatim the policies and procedures because they often use them to their advantage to see what they can get with doing or not doing.
Officers who are fire department employees are the onse who are more worried about proper supervisory methods and how to do paperwork. While these tasks are extermely important and must be mastered, learning how to operate efficiently and aggresively on the fire scene, in my opinion, is an art that must be learned first and foremost. We have all seen the type-officers who are great at doing administrative duties and paperwork but on the emergency scene are ineffective to the point of being inept. they are the ones who look good in the administration's eyes because they never want to rock the boat. They never want to go against policy for doing what it took to save a life.
WHICH ONE ARE YOU?
Captain Greg Wild,
Franklin Fire Department, TN
As a proud member of the fire service for over 20 years, I am often outspoken about the brotherhood and the camaraderie within our ranks. Usually I only share my feelings locally, but after a long night and a large fire in our city, I feel compelled to share some thoughts with my brothers across this country.
As we progress through our life in the fire service, we experience many different types of firefighters. All of whom have numerous reasons as to why they decided to enter this profession. Sometimes we come across some internal MUTTS that act as if they were drafted into the fire service. They floar around for years, below the radar, complaining and simply trying to pull others down.
These are the folks who are our lower 10%. I say "our" because they still wear the same cross on the uniform as we all do.
This lower 10% always seems to be unable to understand what drives the rest of us. They lack the passion for the service and are here either for the insurance, schedule, or Lord knows what. You know the type and can probably insert a few faces here. These people complain about everythings while offering no solution. They are against training, getting along with others, and usually, what the rest of us stand for.
On the other end of this spectrum, we have the upper 10%. These folks are the polar opposites of the lower 10%. Their attitudes, abilities, and understanding of who we are and what we do are exceptional. The upper 10% rarely needs coaching, since these are the coaches; they are self motivated and usually are unstoppable. These are our leaders, with an immovable positive attitude, who constantly "steer our ship". The upper 10% and the lower 10% work together, but usually do not get along. They have copmletely different agendas, skill sets and core values. They integrate about as well as oil and water. Can you insert some faces to this class in your oranization?
Now, that leaves us with our middle 80%. That's where you will find most firefighters. All of them entered this service on their love of the job, and their drive and skills fall across the entire spectrum. The lower part of the 80% can somtimes be unmotivated and are often "followers". The middle to upper 80% bracket is the backbone of our organization and is what make things happen. This is the group that's willing to fly to Seaside or Seattle on their own dollar, because it is important. These are the people who volunteer to be on a committee, or ask to give something back to the organization. These are the ones whom can usually be called upon and will do almost whatever is asked of them. These are the ones who put out the fires.
Now let's understand that many of us will sometimes move from the 80% to the top 10% and usually after a short period, settle back into the 80% area again. This is important, because it is where we do our best work. This is where our comfort zone exists.
Sometimes, some of the middle 80% group will fall into the lower 10%. This happens because the lower 10% is never satisfied with their current personnel and they are always recruiting. They are lower leaders and have the ability to bring you down. Remember they have gravity working with them, so it's not hard for them to find you. You need to watch out for them, because they are always there and are walking among us.
Let's understand that we all may occasionally dip into the lower 10% area to take a look around, but the lower 10% disease is very contagious, so don't stay there long. Once you're there, leave ASAP before you're also infected. If you find yourself sitting around the kitchen table, maybe insulting one of your brothers who just left, then guess what, you're being recruited by them. Get out of there fast!
So, how do we avoid being plagued with the lower 10% disease? Just remember to ask yourself "What good will this do?" At my station, I recently told my new crew that complaining hour is limited to 0600-0700. That's it. If they need to complain during this time, that was fine, as long as we ALL could fix the problem within the shift. Remember this is a group effort and all problems and complaints should be approached that way.
Now ask yourself, "Where am I, and where do I want to be?" If you make a determination that you're not happy with where you are, then FIX IT. Look around and determine who around you is in the top 10% and ask for help. Believe me, this group cannot get too busy. They live and strive to help others. Be their student. Ask them for advice, they are there for you.
Avoid the lower 10%. If you are an upper 10% guy, it is incumbent upon you look around and find someone who many be floating and needs a little direction, it's your duty. Tell them about the FOOLS.
YOU may be the one that they have been waiting for to help nudge them in the right direction. Chances are, they're out there right now waiting for you!
So, are you up for the challenge?