“One trait that Meade evidently possessed was absolute coolness under fire.”1
The quote above from Meade at Gettysburg, describes the general as he and his troops weathered a heavy artillery bombardment preceding what is known today as Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign.
In the photo above the statue in the distance is General Meade sitting on his horse Baldy on Cemetery Ridge. The artillery pieces are facing west in the direction of Pickett’s Charge.
Throughout history, hundreds of people have maintained their composure during times of danger and stress. By doing so, they have been able to make safe and sane decisions.
A Large Wildland Fire
Calm Chris was a lieutenant I worked with on Loveland Fire Rescue in Colorado. In June of 2000, we experienced the large Bobcat Gulch Fire in the western portion of our jurisdiction.
I was assigned to the fire on the second day and that afternoon the fire grew exponentially creating a large mushroom cloud of smoke. Due to the extreme fire behavior, all of us were pulled off the line into safer positions.
Waiting for our next assignment, we listened to the radio as Chris’s engine company was dispatched to a reported wildland fire northeast of our location. It didn’t take long for us to find out that it was not a different fire. The Bobcat Gulch Fire had spotted long distance into an area known as Masonville.
Maintain Your Composure2
Approaching Masonville, Chris realized the magnitude of the incident before him, and the dangers presented to the community.
Contrary to what you may see on one of those stupid, over dramatized, exaggerated, unrealistic television shows about firefighters, Chris was not yelling on the radio. He calmly relayed the situation to the dispatcher and told her to notify the sheriff’s office to start evacuating Masonville.
He maintained professionalism and composure in the face of a rapidly growing wildland fire. He did not fall apart. Why? Because that is how trained and competent individuals handle those situations.
Losing your mind, yelling, screaming, and running around like a chicken with your head cut off will not accomplish anything other than letting people know how incompetent you are. People like that are not trusted or respected. Don’t be one of those people.
I have been studying decision-making and situational awareness since 2007 and authored two research papers on the subject when I was a student in the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. As a former battalion chief and incident commander, I know about making decisions under stressful conditions and I can help you and your team become better leaders and decision makers.
1Kent Masterson Brown, Meade at Gettysburg, A Study in Command, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2021), 295
2Rick Davis, The Furnace of Leadership Development, (Loveland, CO: Java House Publishing, 2019), 132