Part 1: Are We Professionals On Game Day?

Article by: Mike Lopina

Are we professionals on game day?

Are we professionals? We call ourselves such and it matters not if we are career or volunteer. What makes us professional is that we respond to each and every call ready to perform at our best and we study our opponent day in and day out. Do we evaluate our performance after every call (both internally and externally) and build upon that for the next time or do we just come back, reset and sit back until the next run comes in? Is that our routine because the calls we go on are routine? There is no such thing as a routine call. What makes the call “routine” is that we have experienced it before (a fire, a diabetic, wire down, etc). While our brain says we have experienced this before, it should also be telling us to watch out and expect something to change in the blink of an eye.

"If this gets swept under the rug, we're not going to learn by the mistakes of the past and we're going to end up recommitting them because nobody ends up facing justice in the country" Mike McCarthy

“If this gets swept under the rug, we’re not going to learn by the mistakes of the past and we’re going to end up recommitting them because nobody ends up facing justice in the country” Mike McCarthy

Personally, I look at our profession no differently than I look at the game of football. There are so many similarities and comparables that we can draw from and use to up our level of performance when we go to work. Football teams face their opponents on a weekly basis but spend their off time studying film and practicing for the next big game (us), knowing that the team across from them is going to everything in their power to win and control the game on their terms (fire).

The Head Coach:

First, let’s start with the Chief/IC (Head Coach). This is the person that calls all the plays and dictates how the game will go based on his or her play calling. While every coach hopes their game plan will be flawless and perfectly executed, a good coach knows to expect anything and to be ready to change the game plan when conditions change. Could you imagine a team turning the ball over and keeping their offense on the field when they no longer have possession? That would be crazy. Yet, we do it all the time. How about going for it on every 4 and 10? Silly. Sure, you may get lucky and continue your series but most of the time you will be stopped and forced to give the ball up. The smart and experienced coach will punt most times but recognizes when to exploit the situation and go for it; usually with success. This is what we refer to as a calculated risk that we know is dangerous but will have positive results. We do not take these risks without first running through them in practice (training) week after week until we get the sequence down. A coach does not sit in the locker room at halftime watching other games to find a play he wants to call during the 2 half. Doing so and asking his players to execute a play having never seen or practiced it only invites disaster. Yet we do just that when we read an article or, nowadays, watch a video and try to implement it without first practicing it and finding out it if will even work in our playbook (SOGs).

Consider this:

Another aspect is the location of the head coach during the game (fire). He or she is on the sideline calling the plays and changing them based on what is seen in real time. The coach does not enter the field and try to run the play when the players falter. If he does, he gets penalized. Sure, we all love a chief with dirty gear but the one running IC should not be getting dirty. If he or she is getting dirty it means that they’re doing tasks and not coaching. The coach must remain disciplined and stay on the sideline and continue calling the plays. He does not sit in a TV truck (command van) outside the stadium (fireground) calling the plays based on what his players are telling him. If he did, the game would not, and does not, go well. The head coach (chief) needs to be on the sideline. An assistant coach can sit in the booth upstairs (sector/division officer) and report what is seen from a different angle but the main play caller stays on the sideline watching conditions. If things do not change, he punts (hopefully); if they do, it’s a fresh set of downs (crew relief) and the offense stays on the field.

Success_J.J. Watt_football_leadership_ Game  Day_Head Coach

Why is there such a push to move the head coach away from the field of play? Put an assistant coach (communications/plans chief) in the booth (command van), the offensive coordinator (operations/interior) with the attack crews and the defensive coordinator (safety) keeping an eye on the fire when the fire has possession of the building. Your special teams coach (Special Ops Chief) gets RIT. The lesser known coaches (company officers) have specific positions they coach: QB (nozzleman) is coached by the QB coach (engine officer), offensive line (vent crew) has their line coach (truck officer) and the special teams (squad/rescue) has their coach. Each of those positions has a job to do during the game (fire) and operate independently but still with the rules of the game.

If any of those positions audible without the coaches consent (freelancing), bad things are probably going to happen. Sometimes you might get lucky and get away with one but most of the time you are going to lose. A good player will let the coach know they see weakness in the opponent and check with the coach (communicate) before going ahead with the audible. Yes, there are times when you may have a crew of elite level players that can audible on their own under VERY specific circumstances but they, and their coach, know their experience level and those situations are few and far between. Those elite players know, through experience, that following the playbook is usually the best thing to do.

Ultimately, how the team plays comes down to how the head coach leads. When the players buy into the coaches’ philosophy, the team wins. When the coach loses the team, the team falters and has a losing season. When a team finds the right coach, they give that coach the players he needs to win. A good coach will take the talent he has and develop it into a winning program year after year. If the organization (city or district) fails to support even the best coach and players, the team will ultimately fail no matter how hard everyone tries. A mediocre or perennially bad team will have a new coach every year with no chance at ever having success despite the players’ best efforts.

What kind of coach do you play for?


About the author:
Mike LopinaMichael J Lopina has been a firefighter/paramedic since 1989 and is currently a Lieutenant for a southwest suburban fire department outside Chicago. He is also the owner of Firefighter Education Group where he teaches classes related to building construction and fire behavior. He has a Bachelor’s in Fire Administration from Lewus University and holds numerous Illinois State fire certifications. Please visit the Firefighter Education Group Website below to follow Mike.


Leave a Reply