Battalion Chief Bob Atlas is a 20-year fire service veteran who is currently the Interim Assistant Chief of EMS and Training for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District located in Northern California. Atlas is a prodigious adherent of personal growth and lifelong learning, with a mantra of “the minute you stop learning is the moment you start dying.”
Instead of prepping firefighting candidates for a test, he advocates preparing them for a career. Seven Ways to Win in Today’s Fire Service was developed as a personal and moral compass for individuals to always put in their best efforts and strive to be better than they were the day prior. Whether it’s with a combination of all seven tried and true methods or with a focus on just one, it’s important to always move forward every day, he believes. “Excellence is not what you do, but who you are,” said Atlas.
During Firehouse World in San Diego, Atlas presented the Seven Ways to Win in Today’s Fire Service. Here is an overview:
1. Take Control: Generate positive change and avoid negative influences. Communicate your plan to the people around you, build strategic relationships and, most of all, take control of your reputation. When you succeed at taking control, then you have essentially taken control of the outcome.
2. Establish Credibility in the Profession: Avoid developing a sense of complacency. Firefighters by nature are very humble people who don’t toot their own horns, but we can’t be ashamed of sharing who we are and what our values are. We need to develop our own mission statement that describes our values and what we’re committed to. We need to establish public outreach and proactive campaigns and create a delicate balance that shows the public what we do and how we do it.
3. Be a Participant in the Organization’s Success: Be a part of something greater than personal gain and help take an organization to the next level. The key to success is remaining relevant in the fire service and being better today than you were yesterday.
4. Have a Vision: Individuals need to change the way they approach their careers. They need to be lifelong learners and not just be looking to get a job and then kick back. It’s important that they don’t fall into the mindset of thinking that they’ve learned everything once they’re off probation, or that they’ve learned everything they need to know for the remainder of their careers.
5. Master Command and Leadership Skills on and Off the Fire Ground: The question is: Do you have what it takes to lead in different fields? Can you lead in the firehouse? How about a single engine response?
6. Know Your ‘Why’: Your “why” is the thing that makes you get up in the morning and drive to work and push forward in your career. It’s what makes you excited and happy with wanting to continue and to do more for yourself. Life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.
7. Learn How to Fail Forward: We’re so used to failure as something that moves us backward. Failing forward is no different than a boxer who gets up after being knocked down. Champions and successful people figure out how to use failure to drive them to succeed. Failure is not a bad thing but rather it’s a fork in the road that presents you with opportunities. You fail when you quit. You fail when you let everyone pass you by. Learn to respond and be successful in overcoming obstacles. Don’t let it hold you down. Don’t quit.
Atlas summed it all up by challenging entry level firefighters and incumbents alike: “Do your job and do what is right … always!”
About the Author
Bob Atlas is the Interim Assistant Chief of EMS and training for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District in California. He entered the fire service as a Community Fire Aide for the Milpitas Fire Department in 1996 and completed an internship with the South Santa Clara County Fire Protection District and Cal Fire in 1997. Chief Atlas has been married for 25 years to his wife Teresa. They have three children and reside in Brentwood, Calif.