10 Things Women Taught Me by Brooks Watson

10 Things Women Taught Me.

While reflecting on my last podcast, I realized that the truth of my dating history was poorly presented. I spoke a lot of the “drama” in some relationships, but left out the overwhelming goodness that was consistent in all of them.

It’s safe to say that most relationships have drama. It would probably be more complete of my history to say that I was dramatic, and as I grew, my relationships with women grew less dramatic, and more fruitful.

I began to think more deeply about what I’d learned along the way, and it occurred to me that if I was the student learning, then the women I dated had been the teachers...every one at the right place, at the right time.

So, here are some of the lessons I learned. Each lesson was either told to me directly, or demonstrated to me in their actions. Certain ideas I can attribute to one woman, others to many. This is beginning to sound like I dated a lot of women, but I’m 41, so do the math :)

  1. Insist on Value: Surround yourself with people that add value to your life; That can be anyone, from any place (even exes). If there are relationships sucking the life out of you, end them. Invest that energy in being a better you, and valuable relationships will follow...
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Being Successful… by Brooks Watson

A few weeks ago, my partner and I were working on the roof at a large building fire. We needed to cut open a large hole, push down the ceiling below, and take out the skylights. These are the basic tasks of any roof operation. This particular roof was big and conditions were poor. Thick brown smoke pushed into our faces as we cut, flames began to push through the roof behind us and the wind kicked up, making it all worse. It wasn’t going well and I was getting frustrated. 

I thought this fire might be more than we could handle, but in the moment, we needed to get our job done. From my perspective we had another ten minutes to operate safely, and we could do the work in five.

My Chief had a different idea. That was clear by the tone of his voice, “Off the Roof!”  We weren’t happy about this. It seemed way too soon to go defensive, but we didn’t have much choice, so we made our way down. We bedded the aerial ladder and moved the rig away from the building. The interior companies moved outside, the tower ladders moved in and we all began the set up for a long wet night. I can’t speak for everyone in that moment, but it felt a lot like we lost, and quickly at that. 

From my company's journal. The day I was born.

From my company's journal. The day I was born.

What I had forgotten is that success and failure in the fire department are graded on a different scale. At the completion of every call, the officer of the company writes an account of the call in his journal. At the end of the entry, he writes four simple words: “Co. returned, 5 men.”. It’s been done that way for decades. We keep the bar low. “Do your best, but at all costs, bring five men home.” 

As we stood outside the building figuring out our next job, it occurred to me from this new perspective that the chief’s call was the right one. If I needed further confirmation, I was about to get it, because that’s when the building exploded. 

Fire, smoke and debris erupted from the building into the street. Some of the guys in front got caught in the fire ball, but when the smoke cleared, everyone was fine. There wasn’t one firefighter in or on that building when it blew. The chief had not forgotten, and his decision saved us.   

With a refreshed perspective on what a win looks like, we worked for another four hours to extinguish the fire, save the adjacent building, survive another collapse, and save a dog. So, it turned out pretty good overall. 

There were a lot of things that happened that night. I could have written about any one of them, but it was the lesson on success that resonated most. My life is abundant, I keep it full with purpose, and I’m driven to succeed, but I wonder if I’m moving to fast. Does my success require more effort or less? Do I need to achieve more or just let go of something not serving me? Is everything fine as it stands?

This is the point:  Being successful requires Being. Objectives can change, sometimes a win feels like a loss, or the other way around. But being successful requires Being.

So today I’m going to walk a little slower, do less, enjoy more, and make sure I keep an ear open for those messages you don’t expect, but matter most.

Firefighters don’t fight fire by Brooks Watson

For all the blood, sweat and tears we shed, firefighters don’t fight fires. Or better said, Fire doesn’t fight us. It doesn’t care either way. It’s job is to consume. Fire has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If we didn’t show up at all, most fires would go out anyway, eventually.

The recent “Ice Fire” in Chicago is a perfect example of what happens when firefighters “size-up” the problem and get really Zen. That fire was born to eat until it was full. To go into that building would have only injured us, not the fire. In firefighting, we call that extinguishing the fire by “removing the fuel”. The real job was to make sure it didn’t spread. Lots of time, energy and water was expended at that fire, it took incredible effort by many, but it wasn’t a fight.

So too are many of the smaller fires you and I face in life. They don’t have an agenda against us and they don’t seek us. Maybe intellectually we know this, but we’re so used to fighting when we’re threatened, we make more of our fires than is necessary.

In the past, I’ve agonized over issues in my life, hell bent on figuring out a solution to a problem that may not have existed in reality, yet. I’ve exhausted myself with worry or anger, only to have the problem eventually get resolved. 

We react when all that’s required is a response. The next time you’re putting out fires in your life, ask yourself, “Am I the only one in this battle?”. If you are, back out of the fire and ask yourself, “Do I need to be fighting this one?” If so, reframe the problem, so that a solution only requires effort, not an axe. You’ll do less damage. 

This blog is about the way firefighters live and thrive in their world, and how you can apply those lessons to your daily emergencies. It’s been collecting in my head and this seemed to be the best way to clear the mind. Thanks for reading.

I give you permission to panic. by Brooks Watson

Along the way, I’ve experienced my share of panic. I’ve been trapped by fire 18 stories up, been lost and disoriented in house fires, and a couple times, I’ve run out of air at just the wrong moment. There have been equally stressful times, when I’ve just reacted without thinking, taking the exact right action, thankfully. Day to day, I can’t tell if I’ll panic or not when everything gets real. I can tell you this though, if I do panic, I give myself two seconds [max] to feel it, then I act.

Panic happens and thank God it does. But, panic is not a plan of action, it’s a red-flag emotion, a tool in your chest that makes it ultra clear you need to get into action now. In every one of those situations, I hit the deck, acknowledged the panic, then acted. The action came from two places: 21 years of emergency training, and from personal pre-planning for situations just like these. I role-play scenarios in my head.

You can think about this post metaphorically (how uncontrolled panic leads to inaction in your life), but I’d also like you to think about this practically, when lives are on the line in your world. For example: Panic takes over when someone needs CPR. Statistically, 70% of people do nothing. Panic also plays a part in thousands of deaths in mass evacuations every year. About 90% of people go to the exit they entered, if it’s a good one or not.

If you want to prepare for panic, do what we do: Pre-plan. If someone goes down, where is the AED in my workplace, place of worship or favorite coffee shop? Do I need a refresher on CPR? Make evacuating a priority when you enter a group setting like the movie theatre, plane, club or banquet hall. Where will everyone go when they panic? What is the best and safest choice for us?

When emergencies happen in your life you’ll probably panic. No worries, I give you permission, but only for two seconds. Acknowledge the fear, then make a decision and act. Firefighters are usually minutes away, but you’re the one that may save your day.

If you can’t stand the heat, hit your knees by Brooks Watson

Sometimes your proverbial kitchen is too big to just “get out of..”. How do you face your problem without getting burned? Get low. Hit the deck. Get on your knees. In a fire, it can be upwards of 1200 degrees at the ceiling, but bearable at the floor. For me this works in life too.

There have been moments in the past and surely more moments in the future when the fires in my life are more than I can handle, without help. After getting burned over and over, I got right-sized.  I know now that the best place for me in moments of powerlessness is to surrender the idea that I can fix the problem alone. I hit my knees. It’s cooler at the floor and a lot easier to see what’s in front of you. 

My tools are part of me by Brooks Watson

A Truckman without a tool is pretty much useless. A Truckman with the right tool is a lifesaver. There are four main tools in my personal arsenal. Depending on my job any particular day, I may carry my CFD issue axe, (this is the biggest pick-headed axe on the market), a 30” Pro Bar with shoulder strap, the 30” TNT tool, usually with the Pro Bar, and when going to the roof or with the officer, I carry the 6’ roof hook. I carry several other hand tools and bailout gear, but I’ll have at least two of these in my hands at a every scene. If I leave the rig with an empty hand, I feel off. If I leave the rig bare-handed, I feel naked.

For those that don’t know, your tools are your tools, they are not everyone’s tools. At a fire, if you need my tools to do your job, I’ll do your job. You don’t get my tools. I need my tools. My tools and I have a history. We have done amazing things together. We know what’s possible. 

In life, I have a few big tools to get where I need to go, or get out of situations I didn’t plan for. My first tool is Awareness. When something is wrong, I’m pretty quick to remember I should do something different. I don’t need or want the drama anymore. The second is Pause. I can stop and breathe. It’s amazing how much gets fixed when you breathe. The third is asking for Help (prayer, then people I trust). If I don’t use these tools or forget I have them, life can get out of control pretty quickly. What are your tools? 

Lost at my destination by Brooks Watson

Recently, I was lost in LA, and my GPS wasn’t helping. I decided to pull over and recalibrate (both the GPS and an increasingly frustrated me). Now stopped, it only got worse, both the GPS in the car and on my phone kept defaulting to my destination without directions (damned google maps must be crashing I thought). After 5 minutes, I gave up and got out to ask directions. Sometimes analog is so much easier. As it turned out, google was trying to tell me something I wasn’t able to see. I had pulled over in front of my destination without knowing it.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been lost at my destination. It happened once before when I was 21. I’d been a volunteer firefighter for 3 years. In that time, I had about 3000 calls under my belt, along with a broken down car, and several failed or withdrawn college courses. I had a tendency to miss class in favor of going to calls. That was fine for the moment, but as the years passed, it was clear that I had no direction and no real inspiration for a career.

That summer, I visited Chicago for a cousin’s wedding. One late night after the wedding, I found myself at a pizza by the slice place on Lincoln Ave. Finding a foldable slice in Chicago is not any easy feat. As I stared out the window, CFD Truck 44 drove by. In my memory, time slowed down as they passed. It was 3 am and all the guys on the rig were laughing. I knew why.

They had the dream job. They were doing what they loved. It only occurred to me at that moment that I was already doing what I loved. The next day I applied for Chicago. That was 19 years ago and for the last 13 years, I’ve been assigned to Truck 44. We still laugh every day :)

Sometimes, we’re so busy searching for something unknown, that we miss what’s right in front of us. Today, I’m learning to slow down, take in the sights and enjoy the ride.

Most of life’s alarms are false. by Brooks Watson

The other day we responded to 12 “Automatic Alarm” calls. These are alarms activated by a set of sensors in the home or building. You’ve seen them before… no magic. Because these sensors alarm for anything that looks like smoke, heat, or fire (depending on the sensor), most of the alarms are false. Lots of things set off these sensors (weather, painters, dust, steam, etc). It happens so often that firefighters make assumptions about automatic alarms. We assume they’re false. This isn’t good practice, but it’s a logical conclusion. Only a small percentage of the time, the alarm is something significant. An alarm system is like the boy who cried wolf. All 12 calls were false.

In my dept. a fire call reported by a person is dispatched as a “FIRE” (makes sense right:). The odds that a “FIRE” is actually a fire is pretty high. When we hear “FIRE” we respond balls to the wall, ready to go to work. That same day, we had two “FIRE” calls reported by people. Both were legit fires.

Technically, we should respond to all alarms as if they’re all “FIRES”, but we don’t. When “Automatic Alarms” are dispatched, we send fewer rigs by policy, we drive slower, and we don’t take unnecessary risks. We stay aware that any one of these alarms could be real, but generally putting a lower priority on lower risk calls makes sense.

After the 12th false alarm, I thought maybe I respond like an automatic alarm sensor sometimes too. When my sensors detect a disturbance, or anything that resembles an emergency, the alarm can sound. Usually they’re things that are out of my control or problems I didn’t plan for. I have an automatic response that is not reasonable or helpful. It’s really amazing how I can get derailed by inconsequential things. Today it was getting stuck in the intersection with a red light camera staring at me. I just got a ticket this week, and the thought of getting another one set me off. Instant resentment against a machine that was going to send me another $220 fine. It took me about 5 seconds to remember that I was in the car alone and no one cared about my rant. It then occurred to me that I was making a left turn and they don’t ticket for that, usually. False alarm.

Ultimately, it almost never matters how I react. So, I’ve been working on developing better sensors to limit false alarms. Today didn’t feel very Zen, but I was grateful it lasted 5 seconds, not 5 hours like in years past. Back to work tomorrow… more lessons to learn.

Starting Fires = Oxygen + Heat + Fuel + Something else by Brooks Watson

I love to start things. I’ve finished my share, but no doubt, there were several flash in the pan ideas too. I thought I had the right stuff, but looking back, my formulas were off.

Another problem: I tended to focus on what I couldn’t control, instead of what I could. An even bigger distraction… why were other people’s businesses burning bright while I couldn’t muster more than a flash? Answer: There’s was something missing; something intangible. 

Let’s talk Fire Science. Yes, it’s a thing. So, what is “Fire”? Fire is the rapid oxidation of combustible materials, resulting in heat and light. For a long time the ingredients needed to create a fire were known as the Fire Triangle: Oxygen, Heat & Fuel. It turns out though that if you have the right amount of oxygen, heat and fuel, those three will just get you a flash, but not a free-burning fire.

What was missing? An “uninhibited chemical chain reaction”. This is the chemistry that turn flash into fire. It’s like the flash goes viral. It’s not guaranteed at all. It happens when it’s ready. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. In fact it mostly doesn’t happen. Oxygen, Heat and Fuel are everywhere. If that’s all it took, the world would be ablaze. 

Such is business life. We’re overwhelmed with success stories. Simple ideas that changed the world, or at least made people famous. Why not me too? If I look at business success through the filter of fire-starting, I am left with this: Most people are trying to make fire with two sticks. This works, but it takes time… and the right sticks. If I’m waiting for a zippo to start my fire, I may be waiting a long time. Most success stories start with sticks too. Whatever my goal, I should focus on what I can control, find the combination of ingredients that give me the spark, and then repeat. If it’s a good idea, that “something else” will appear in time.