Knowledge is Power

Deputy Chief Ron Ayotte on the responsibility to share what you know


“The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people”… Tom Clancy

Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur who founded PayPal, Space X, Solar City and Tesla Motors recently sent a shockwave through the automotive industry by announcing that Tesla will be opening up its electric car patents for competitor access. Most patent holders, whether it is the backyard inventor who invented the” Acme Wonder Widget” to multinational corporations guard their proprietary information like a mother bear protects her cubs. Musk’s motives, while altruistic in promoting electric vehicles, is a marketing move that borders on genius; buy opening the patents, any auto manufacture who wishes to use Tesla’s technology may need to purchase technology and components from Tesla. They produce cars that people want, they make money, and Tesla makes money. Their personnel remain employed, they fuel the economy and the cycle goes on.

The Fire Service has its own version of the aforementioned types. Some firefighters readily pass on knowledge to their fellow firefighters, while some are totally reluctant to share it. They may have a lot of knowledge about firefighting operations gleaned from experience and training or they may have knowledge from past experiences working in professions and the trades before they became firefighters but choose to keep their knowledge “close to the vest”.

There are different reasons. Some firefighters, line officers and Chief officers ( yes, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just Chief officers who have this attitude) simply do not have any “people skills” and cannot communicate what they know to their fellow firefighters. They think that if you don’t know what they know already, it is your fault and they want nothing to do with you. Of course, when the crap hits the fan, they are quick to place blame upon you in order to make themselves look good.

The other reason is that they feel that by keeping the knowledge to themselves, their brother and sister firefighters and officer s will have to come to them for the information, making themselves feel better about themselves as a form of esteem and self-actualization as described by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in the publication Psychological Review.

There are some fire departments and fire associations (career, call and volunteer) that are run like a despotic form of government. These types of fire administrators and fire association hierarchy seek complete control over every aspect of the FD’s operation, keep their office doors locked, barely communicate with their personnel and tend to “manage by memorandum”, only letting out bits and pieces of information and usually skewed to fit their point of view or to cause even more controversy.

Who suffers? In a word… everyone.

Sharing information doesn’t mean asking the President of the United States for the nuclear launch codes. Sharing information, whether it be simply letting the oncoming duty shift know that there was an issue during an earlier call or passing on information about an occupancy makes “the job” a little easier and can save lives and property… including our own.

Members of FDNY Engine Company 290 and Ladder Company 103 during SCBA and RIT training. Photo courtesy of Lloyd Mitchell Photography, used with permission


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AyotteProfilePhotoRon Ayotte Ron Ayotte is one of four Deputy Fire Chiefs with the Marlborough Fire Department, Marlborough, Massachusetts. Ron began his career with the MFD in November of 1981, was promoted to Lieutenant in November of 1988, Promoted to Captain in August of 2000 and was promoted to Deputy Chief in 2006. Ron’s responsibilities at the MFD include incident command, communications, plans review, inspections and training. Ron also works per diem in the Support Services division at the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services/Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, working support for various Academy programs, including Recruit training, Call/Volunteer training, Certification and LNG-LPG firefighting training. Ron’s writings and musings can be seen at Chief Concerns.
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1 Comment

  • Ric Jorge says:

    Another great article about how the fire service would benefit from “leadership qualities” vs “Selfish motivation”. Good leaders want you to learn so you can lead with them, selfish people want power, money, and control.
    Leadership leaves a legacy, selfishness leaves a longing for leadership …. Great article Chief Ayotte.

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