There are two kinds of people in this world- the first kind who run away from a fire with fear on their faces, and the second kind who run into fire with smiles on their faces. After years of conditioning as the first kind, I jumped on to the other side to live a day in the life of the second kind. After years of looking out of the window as they used to zoom by, I spent a day zooming into the window looking out for someone trapped in fire.
The scene- Training grounds of Fire Department of New York or FDNY- The second largest municipal fire department of the world. The task- Save lives. Take out fires. As we put on those firefighter suits, oxygen cylinders, masks, and helmets to get ready for a day of firefighting exercises, we felt the sudden rush of adrenaline flow into every vein. As the captains and chiefs led us into the 'evolutions' (FDNY's term for fire exercises/simulations), we felt how they felt. We acted the way they act. We began to believe what they have believed for over a century- Saving lives is good. But it becomes better when you accomplish it as a team.
There are four pillars to success we were told- Leadership, Teamwork, Trust and Communication. Terms we had heard a million times in the classroom. But terms which found new life as we tackled daunting situations. As I encountered my fear of heights dangling from the top of a building and holding on to a rope in the hands of my teammate, I realized the meaning of Trust. When I crawled into a dark tunnel with no end in sight, hitting into walls, dirt and obstacles, while being responsible for finding civilians and guiding my claustrophobic teammates out safe and sound, I 'saw' the importance of Communication. As we entered a room blazing with fire and smoke, a heavy hose in our hands and only our abilities and coordination to trust, we understood what it meant to move forward as a Team. As eight of us were brought on to save lives on a bomb blast scene with hidden live detonators, we roamed around mindlessly like clowns, stepping on bombs and bringing back dead people instead of the alive- we were left clueless and failed miserably. But we were taught a crucial lesson on Leadership under crisis.
At the end of the day, each one of us took away something unique. For some of us, it was the four pillars that would be the foundation of our teams and businesses. For some of us, it was the new self awareness as leaders and teammembers. For others, it was an opportunity to face our fears and come out triumphant. But for all of us, it was a day of newly found respect for the men and women around the world fighting to save lives with silent humility in the background.
Now every time that fire engine passes by with its alarm bells ringing, it's not just another vehicle for me. It's a mission with my wishes, respect and spirit riding along as it crosses by...