Courage, Motivation, Inspiration

By Justin Capaul
Engineer, Kootenai County Fire & Rescue (Post Falls, Idaho)
Courage to Be Safe® Trainer

Where do you get the courage to change culture? Where do you get the heart, the will, the determination to make a difference in the fire service? How do you become a leader, gain the trust of your brothers/sisters, and continue to get the job done on a daily basis, both in and out of the firehouse? These are questions that every firefighter around the world will ask themselves at some point in their careers, and the answers to these questions are never easy to identify.

When we talk about changing culture, the first thing that most people focus on is the word “change.” As we all know, change in most departments does not come easy. The Courage to Be Safe® training built on change. It emphasizes the need to change culture, to change the way we do business, and most importantly, change the way we accept line-of-duty deaths as “normal.” The message that the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation is trying to instill through this program is “change.” So how do we get the courage to stand up in front of our brothers and sisters and stress the need for change? It starts with you. It starts with me. It is up to us, us as firefighters, drivers, company officers, chief officers, and us, as brothers and sisters, to know our profession, know our mission, and take initiative. Courage to Be Safe® training instills in us that our message is Everyone Goes Home® at the end of the shift, after every run, and ultimately at the end of our careers. Our mission is this: “Ensure that every fire department in the United States is aware of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives and to work in conjunction with fire department organizations to ensure fire departments have the resources to implement the initiatives.” I point these out because it is imperative that we know and live the message and the mission before trying to spread them to others around us. Knowing and living this will give you the respect, the dignity, and most importantly the courage you need to initiate change.

Once you understand the message and the mission, you need to find the motivation. There are many different places you can find this motivation. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Everyone Goes Home® program offer much of this motivation through presentations, motivational videos, and newsletters with articles written by those we respect and admire. Losing brothers and sisters might also give you the motivation needed to spread the message and live the mission. For me, my motivation comes from many different places. In the beginning, I was motivated after reading about line-of-duty deaths, day after day, year after year. Motivation also comes from understanding that 25 percent of LODDs can be prevented overnight if every firefighter in the nation was to simply wear a seat belt. Also, knowing that in 2006, NFPA reported over 60 percent of medical LODDs could have been avoided had those members received annual physical exams. I also found motivation in reading a 10-year study by the NFPA, about half of American firefighters who died of sudden cardiac arrest or suffered heart attacks had known heart conditions and about 75 percent had heart conditions that simple medical testing could have detected.

My motivation also comes from being a 4th generation firefighter in my family and knowing that they look to me to make my difference in the fire service. The greatest part of my motivation comes from my wife, and knowing that I have a son due in June and that they count on me to come home after every shift. In June of 2008, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer that was found during an annual physical exam, as mentioned in Initiative 6.

Everyone’s motivation is different, which is what makes this program great. Spreading your personal motivation really touches the audience. Knowing the message, knowing the mission, and partnering them up with motivation and inspiration, gives you the recipe for courage.

I taught a Courage to Be Safe® program at a neighboring fire department several months ago. The day after I taught the class, I had a voice mail left on my phone. When I listened to the message, an officer from that department had called me to thank me for coming up, but most importantly to thank me for changing the culture of his department. He stated to me that “you did change the culture and you did make an impact with those that attended.” I saved this message on my phone and thought about it for another couple of days. I called him back and we talked for over an hour. I wanted him to know that it wasn’t me that changed the culture of his fire department. My job was simply to find my courage, share the mission and spread the message. I made sure he understood that it would take courage on their part to live by the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives and ensure everyday that Everyone Goes Home®.

I share this story with you for two reasons, as I still have this message saved on my phone. The message that this officer left me serves as my inspiration to continue to do the job, to continue teaching, and to continue to try to make a difference in and out of the firehouse. This voicemail is a continued reminder of my passion, my mission, and my message. It is up to us to change the culture, live the brotherhood, and know our jobs. It is up to us to start a department-wide safety committee following NFPA 1500, to take initiative and stop unsafe practices, to continue to learn, read, and teach everyday for the betterment of the fire service. It is up to us to change the culture and the Courage to Be Safe(sm) training program does change culture.

I try to always remember the oath I took when I joined Local 2856 “…do you further promise that you will never knowingly wrong a brother/sister, or see him/her wronged? …to all of this you pledge your honor to observe, and keep as long as life remains…” I’ll end this with a quote from my dad who has over twenty years in the fire service, “for years it has brought me great joy and peace knowing that I was a part of the greatest group in the world, the brotherhood of firefighters. Today I have not lost that joy and peace but sadness has crept in. Sadness knowing no other profession, no other group, and no other people in the world can experience, the brotherhood of firefighters, as I have for over 20 years and my brothers and sisters will forever.”

I will ask you again. Where do you get the courage to change culture? Where do you get the heart, the will, the determination to make a difference in the fire service? How do you become a leader, gain the trust of your brothers/sisters, and continue to get the job done on a daily basis, both in and out of the firehouse?

Justin is a fourth generation firefighter with Kootenai County (ID) Fire & Rescue in Post Falls, Idaho. He has an Associates degree in Fire Science and is working on a Bachelors degree in Business Management. Throughout his 8 year career he has become an Engineer and EMT-I. Justin is involved with the Idaho State Region I Hazmat team and an Idaho Level I instructor.