Tuesday, February 10, 2015


By: Mark vonAppen

A well-intentioned co-worker took me aside as I prepared for a promotional exam, placed his hand on my shoulder and asked, “What’s your deal?”

In return I offered a puzzled look as the conversation stumbled awkwardly down a familiar path.

He continued,  “You need to tone it down. People are saying you're a bit over the top.  If you want to get promoted, you need to disappear."


I stiffened inside as I listened to his words.  What was wrong with me that doing things my way went against what was socially graceful, safe, or right?  It was the part of myself that I despised, but I had always seemed unable, or unwilling, to change it. What had made me such a misfit, living my life with my head lowered, so dead-set on testing limits, permanently at odds with the world around me?  Why was I forever pushing upwind, uphill, and upstream?


I began to consider what I was being asked to do.  Was I wrong?  Was it me?  I realized then that I was being asked to compromise what I felt was right, to realign my true north, and my heels dug in once again as they had from the moment I was born.  I was being asked to do what was easy as opposed to what I knew was right.  It wasn't me, quit had never been in my vocabulary, but fight and adaptation were always part of my life.  History has proven that wars are won by those who are students of battle stories, those who press on despite the best efforts of those who try to hold them back.  

A wide, satisfied grin spread across my face.  

Oh, sorry.  

Wait a minute, I'm not sorry.

I will not disappear.  I won't be put in a box.

A big part of what it means to lead is having the courage to disobey. The path of most resistance is where the biggest change occurs.

I not so subtly rolled my eyes and my inner monologue went something like this, "Here we go again..."

I had heard it all of my life, so I took a deep breath, counted to five and let the words permeate.

I offered an even, biting retort.  "Good.  That's the point.  I'm fired up.  I love this job and I'm not sorry about it.  No apologies, no excuses.  Not then, not now, not ever.  Excuses are useless to me, my friends don't need them, and nobody else will believe them.  I will strive to be at my best everyday.  For me, it’s not about appeasing the masses.  It's about improved performance.  My job is to make my crew as safe and effective as we can possibly be.  It's not about checking boxes.  I'll let my crew's performance do the talking.  What's your deal?"

If you have no ideas then you can't be a nuisance.  A big part of what it means to lead is having the courage to disobey, not in a sophomorish revolt against the establishment for the sake of conflict, but because you feel that there is a better way to be found through independent thought, innovation, communication, and teamwork. 

The path of most resistance is where the biggest change occurs.  Are you going to do what's easy or what's right?


No, thanks.  I'm not going out quietly.

Don't like it?  Tough.


  1. Awesome read Mark! I can relate very much to this article or one my favorite line is. You need to stop reading so much fire training stuff and get more socialable with the guys so they will like you better and you can get promoted !

    1. Anonymous,

      I hear you. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: You'll avoid the tough decisions and you'll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted...everyone will like you because you don't bother anybody. You can go through your life as a fence pole sitter, or you can stand for what you believe in: taking care of the emotional and professional health of your people and preparing them to succeed after you have gone. Nothing else really matters beyond that.

      Thank you for commenting.


    2. Hey Anonymous, I would much rather have a prepared, ready and knowledgeable Officer than a "buddy with bugles". As front line personnel, when we demand excellence of oursleves hopefully it drives leadership to demand the same. Being social does not lead out hose lines, throw ladders or search on hands and knees. A focus on training to out-perform the fireground is what accomplishes these tasks.

      Keep the Faith brother

  2. Mark,

    Well put, Bro! I enjoy reading your posts.

    Stay safe.


  3. You will never learn how to swim unless you swin against the current. Not only do you learn to swim but you will be a stronger swimmer for it. Here is a short blurb of how I see it: From Nothing Worth Doing is Easy on engineco22.net
    Assets and liabilities, which side of the table do you sit? There are varying degrees of conviction to the profession of Firefighter. Do you feel guilty some days when you are doing an activity other then trade related? While driving, do you softly speak a first due size up or look for building construction characteristics? Do your pros and cons list always consider how life choices affect fireground abilities? Can you not turn off the fire switch in your head? Be an asset not a fireground liability. Nothing worth doing is easy.

    The satisfaction is in the struggle, not the end result.
    Mark you are a poet among the working class. We are listening and keeping our heads down with you.

  4. Mark, Thanks for another great post. I've heard that sentiment before as well, although more towards my enthusiasm for progress, political action, EMS, and personal accountability. In the spirit of the adaptation you've mentioned, it works for me to rethink the issue under the banner of "Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?" When the people who take more than they give puff up and lash out because of your efforts, I try to re-frame the issue in way that will still get the job done, and maybe they'll accidentally help. Thank for your work!

  5. Mark, I faced the same advice and I asked for an explanation. Because I was baffled. How could I do less and get more? That just went against everything in me. He further explained that those who just fit in, slide by, fly under the radar are never seen as a problem. It seems that the bosses just wanted to have people who came to work and did not cause them to do their job, or even worse add to their job by having to guide someone who is trying to make things better. I watched and he was right. Guys that were out front, putting the effort were getting their noses smashed while the guy who reads the paper, just slid right by. I can say now, years later, that is no longer the case. Now those who are sliding by, are standing out, they are left behind at calls, run over at scenes and drills and not honored by many. Our culture has changed. Just the other day our Ops Chief made a comment about a supervisor. He referenced that you will never see whip marks on this guy, because he needs no encouragement, I may have to reign him in now and again, but he is out front leading! Another great write up! People are taking their jobs back across the nation.

    1. Scott,

      It is an unfortunate reality that those who attempt to drive change have a big red bullseye painted on their back (or maybe it's a "kick me" sign). If you don't throw a rock in the water the ripples of change will never shift the sands on the intended shore.

      True, we might need to have the reins pulled in a bit, but being competent at our job requires effort - it requires people who push. We give out too many gold stars for achievement for those who simply show up for work. We need to be better than that.

      Thank you for your comments and support,


  6. Mark, THANK YOU!!!! I have been banging my head against the station walls trying to get others see there's more to the fire service than what's inside our walls of the firehouse.

  7. I just got promoted to company officer and basically thats my FD career against the grain but for the right reasons. I love it true thoughts of a real Firemen.