Blowin’ Smoke with Chief Rick Lasky

Chief Rick Lasky (ret.) a 34-year veteran of the fire service, served as chief of the Lewisville (TX) Fire Department for 12 years.  Rick followed in his father’s footsteps beginning his career as a firefighter in the suburbs on the southwest side of Chicago and while in Illinois received the 1996 International Society of Fire Service Instructors “Innovator of the Year” award for his part in developing the “Saving Our Own” program.  Throughout his 30-plus years in the fire service he has served as a career and volunteer firefighter.  He served as the co-lead instructor for the H.O.T. Firefighter Survival program at FDIC for over 10 years, is a long-standing editorial advisory board member for Fire Engineering Magazine and also serves on the FDIC advisory board.  Rick is the author of the best-selling books “Pride and Ownership-A Firefighter’s Love of the Job” and “Five Alarm Leadership: From the Firehouse to the Fireground” published by PennWell Books and is the co-host for the radio show “The Command Post” heard on Fire Engineering Talk Radio.  Rick holds an AAS Degree in Fire Science from Columbia Southern University and was selected as the CSU 2012 Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) Outstanding Graduate.  He was also honored in 2012 as an inductee into the Chicago Softball Hall of Fame.

How many years have you served in the fire service? 34

Why did you join the fire service?  I followed in my father’s footsteps in the suburbs on the southwest side of Chicago.

Is there any distinct way that you have tried to make a difference?  Through one of my programs, “Pride and Ownership: The Love for the Job,” I have tried to bring an awareness back to just how special our profession is.  Whether you’re a career or volunteer firefighter, nothing else in the world comes close to that of being a firefighter.  But in order to truly understand what it is we do, you have to have ownership and you have to have pride in what you do.  Not the pride associated with arrogance but the pride associated with the ownership in what you do and the purpose you serve.  You have to own it, make it yours, and when you describe it you do so with the word My; My department, My engine, My ambulance, My captain, My partner, My city, and the list goes on and on.  I love when I firefighter says to me “chief, let me show you my engine” or “this is my captain.”  That kind of ownership makes a great company, a great firefighter, and with that ownership comes pride.  The pride in knowing what you do matters and that you are making a difference every day.  Pride and Ownership truly is the key to a happy and meaningful career.

Have you accomplished any specific personal goals during your career?  Yes.  I finished college and earned my degree through Columbia Southern University!  When I was 18 years old, I made a poor choice and chose baseball over college.  I was up for a pretty good college scholarship and could have played baseball while I was in, but chose what I thought was a faster route to the major leagues.  Big mistake!  What ended up happening was a pursuit of my college degree while working years in the fire service facing obstacles along the way that kept delaying my reaching the finish line.  Well CSU made it happen and I finished, have my degree in fire science and have an incredible feeling of self-accomplishment that never goes away.  So many of our young firefighters end up making the same decision I made and pursue their fire service career and hold off on college saying they’ll get it done after they get hired and sadly few do.  Life brings with it other “things to do” and college slowly slips away only for them to find out later that they wished they had went after it early in their career.  My advice, go for it as soon you can.  You won’t regret it.  The job will still be there.  And for those who made the choice I made earlier in life and are later in their careers, go for it!  It’s worth the feeling you get with accomplishing something pretty special.

What is the biggest change that you have witnessed since joining the fire service?  Technology.  I think it’s amazing to see where we’ve come in 30 years.  I’m a big history buff especially with the fire service and to see where we’ve come since Ben Franklin got things going to where we are now is so very cool and proof that we are getting better at what we do.  In the past 30 years I have seen a dramatic change in PPE, thermal imagers came into play, fire apparatus has made leaps and bounds in progress, our tools, equipment, computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems are incredible, and the list goes on.  It’s exciting to think about where we’ll be 30 years from now.  Trust me, one day we’ll be flying to calls!  Hey, we used to use horses!

What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today?  Keeping firefighters safe and alive.  I created a program called “Saving Our Own” in the early 90’s in an effort to better train firefighters in how to save themselves or a partner or crew.  But I learned a short time later that programs as great as they are and there are a lot of them, are just that, a program.  And if the people taking them are not willing to change a behavior, their way of thinking, their attitude, then we are destined to see bad things happen to good firefighters again and again.  Bottom line, firefighters are way too special and way too precious to waste doing things we know are not right or can end in tragedy.  We have to get smarter at how we feel about safety and change a behavior that has gotten us into trouble for years.  You can still be that firefighter, go to a good job, kick ass at that fire, we just need to be better at it.  In order to have the courage to be safe, you have to have the courage!

What is the best firehouse prank that you might have allegedly been involved in throughout your career?  There are too many to choose from! Sorry.

During your many years on the job, how were you able to push through the darkest of times?  By understanding that we have two families.  The first family the one at home, and the second family the one at the firehouse.  When people are faced with working through one of those dark times, you quickly realize that in order to do it and do it safely both mentally and health wise, that it is family that gets you through things.  Your family at home, the most important one, and the family at the firehouse, the brotherhood.  Those brothers and sisters that stand by you through thick and thin, provide that shoulder to lean on, and never leave your side.  Those true brothers and sisters, one of the things that make the fire service so very special in the first place.  Brothers and sisters taking care of each other.  Nothing is stronger than family!

If you could provide some of the younger generation of firefighters with a few words of wisdom, what would they be?  Train every day.  Train, train, train!  Never think you know it all. Become a student of the fire service.  Read something about this job every day.  Always strive to be better at what you do.  Be a mentor to younger firefighter.  Help them be better at what we do.   And never, ever, forget just how special it is to be a firefighter!