Things I’ve Learned: Fire Chief Larry Langston

Larry Langston

Photo by Matt Fox

Parenting is like rushing into a burning building. Both can be stressful and leave you with a feeling of being a little bit out of control. Firefighting requires a team working together and covering each other; so does parenting. Good firefighters never panic, and I suppose that applies to good parenting.

I was hopeful, but I never pushed my children to become firefighters. They were encouraged to find their own way. Both of my children have, however, followed the path of public service. Our daughter is a teacher, and loves it. Our son is a Marine Corp/Navy pilot. He considered a Fire Service career, but his heart was in aviation. Candidly, I must admit I would love to see him on a fire engine.

There are no cat skeletons in trees, they figure out a way down eventually. As fire fighters, we don’t climb up in the tree to rescue a cat. That is true for parenting, too; allowing the child to go through difficulties on their own is “okay.”

The one thing that my children may bring up in therapy, is: “Did my dog really run away?”

I have found the most common thread for destroying teamwork is arrogance. Arrogance is too often a short step away. We as parents need to stress the appeal and value of true
humility. So, team sports were what our family was all about, because team sports nurture teamwork and trust. At Bend Fire, we currently look for humility and a history of teamwork when interviewing new firefighters. Our guys spend one third of their lives together. They need to count on each other in difficult and dangerous situations; teamwork is at the foundation of their work. I have never known a career firefighter who I could not trust when the chips were down.

Fire chiefs last an average of three years, according to National Statistics. If a chief thinks, “I am always right,” he or she will find themselves on the short term list. Like a fire chief, keeping an open mind and being a good listener as a parent is not always easy, but it is necessary. That doesn’t mean we give up our base values; it is just that we recognize the world has a lot of grey. When they—the employees or the kids—quit coming to you for advice, it is probably because they are working around you. That ends up bad for everyone.

Negotiating with the Fire Union is far easier than negotiating with my children. Our children were experts at getting their way. Especially my daughter, she worked me like you wouldn’t believe. With firefighters there is a line they won’t cross. There are no lines with children. If we don’t say “no,” anything goes.

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