Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
The Fire Ninja is casting down his bucket where he is. Are you?
Published:  03 March, 2014

A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: ‘Water, water. We die of thirst.’ The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ A second time, the signal, ‘Water, send us water!’ went up from the distressed vessel. And was answered: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.' A third and fourth signal for water was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.’ The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.

This is an excerpt from the speech that was given by Booker T. Washington in 1895 at the Atlanta Exposition in Georgia. The speech he gave that day and the occasion surrounding it has been described as the pivotal moment where race relations began to change throughout the United States following the horrors of the Civil War. The point that Mr. Washington was trying to make with that story is that oftentimes we waste time and energy in seeking outside assistance when we are fully capable of fulfilling our needs. Specific to the race analogy, he was saying that the freed African American population following the Civil War was pleading for outside assistance and support, when they were well within their means to improve themselves. Cast down your bucket where you are. Or look for ways to make do for yourself. Find ways to improve your situation independently. Focus your energy on solving the problem and not on desperate pleas for assistance.

A powerful narrative and one that resonated for me as I read Mr. Washington’s auto-biography recently. But as I read those words, I couldn’t help but relate them to our struggles in the Fire Industry. By no means do I attempt to diminish or parallel the struggles of racial inequality, but I couldn’t help but take away my own personal message from his dialogue.

Frequently in the Fire Service we have needs. Needs for training, needs for equipment, needs to improve morale. As Officers the goal of achieving those needs falls to us. How frequently do we cry out in frustration for help, only to be told that; ‘it’s not in the budget.’ Or ;’They’ll never approve the money for that!’

Cast down your bucket where you are.

Find different ways to achieve the same goal. Challenge yourself to put aside the obvious and seek out the alternate solution. Need training funds to send your staff too much needed training? Learn the information yourself or develop a train the trainer strategy and find ways of providing the training yourself. Need training props but can’t get funding to buy them? Reach out to your community contacts and find ways to build them yourselves. Struggling with poor morale? Develop a recognition program to reward your team members and find ways to recognize them with plaques, gift cards or even a public hand-shake / pat on the back. Do we need management to achieve those goals? Only if we’re short sighted. Only if we’re not creative.

Only if we fail to cast down our buckets where we are.

Our team relies on us to lead them, so as leaders we must face each obstacle as a speed bump and not as a brick wall. In our occupation we confront fire and life threatening hazards that few people will ever face, so why do we wilt when we run up against a management challenge? The creativity and problem solving that flows freely on the fire ground can be practiced and harnessed in the office just as easily. But we must commit to doing so.

The other functional element of Mr. Washington’s analogy was that we can just as easily improve our situation ourselves as by asking for assistance from others. Specifically, we can improve our education, which in turn improves our entire station in life. Realizing that, ask yourself what are your educational goals are as a firefighter? Have you learned it all? Are there areas that you’d like to explore? Are there specialties that you would like to pursue? What’s truly amazing about the personal dedication to self-improvement is the undeniable inspirational effect that it will have on your staff.

So when you think that you’ve been bested and your calls for help are going ignored, stop and think to yourself;

‘Cast down your bucket where you are'.

Standing by in the shadows with my bucket,

~Fire Ninja