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December 18, 2003
By Chief Ronald Richards

As a Nor'easter storm hit the east coast last Sunday,  I was watching the tube, flipping between an old movie, the Weather Channel and two NFL games. The games in New York and New England conjured up memories of the NFL season's 30+ years ago, when the Green Bay Packers would host the Chicago Bears in bitter cold temperatures, often on a snow-covered field. Needless to say, those games were fun to watch, but painful if you were a playing.

Back then, coaches were often retained for a decade and were held in high esteem, unlike today. They were highly respected but underpaid by today's standards. One of those coaches was Vince Lombardi.
In 1958 the Green Bay Packers were losers. He agreed to take over the team for the 1959 season. Vince held the first of his notoriously intense training camps to gear up for the season. Vince took over the reigns of the flounder team with high expectations. 

He asked for obedience, dedication and 110% effort from each man, but he also made a promise to them: if they obeyed his rules and used his method, they would be a championship team.  Three years later, that promise became a reality. At Lambeau Field in Green Bay on December 31, 1961, Vince watched proudly as the Packers defeated the New York Giants 37-0 for the National Football League championship.

In 1967, after nine phenomenal winning seasons with the Packers, Vince decided to retire as head coach. The Packers had dominated professional football under his direction, collecting six division titles, five NFL championships, two Super Bowls (I and II) and acquiring a record of 98-30-4. They had become the stick by which all other teams were measured.

Coach Lombardi said, "Football is like life -- it requires perserverence, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority." In looking at the fire service and the challenges we face daily, I think Vince Lombardi shoulda been a fire chief.

Vince took a rag-tag, leaderless group of individuals and molded them into a winning team. Does that sound like your fire company? A lot of strong guys and gals, all with competing egos who often put "I" before "team". Strong as individuals, but weak as a team.

Lombardi was more than a coach. Despite his ability to turn around the Wisconsin-based team, Vince was respected by his players and peers as a leader, a teacher, a visionary and motivator.

After less than a year, however, Vince realized that he still wanted to coach. He accepted the head coaching position for the Washington Redskins in 1969. During that season, Vince kept what had become the Lombardi tradition and led the Redskins to their first winning record in 14 years.

Coach Lombardi shoulda been a fire chief. Read his quotes. Relate them to you fire service organization. I think you will agree.
  • "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor."
  • "Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him. It's something we call heart power. Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop him short of success."
  • "Unless a man believes in himself and makes a total commitment to his career and puts everything he has into it-his mind, his body, his heart-what's life worth to him?"
  • "Success demands singleness of purpose."
  • "Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will be judged by only one thing-the result."
  • "Winning is not a sometime thing: it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do the right thing once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing."
  • "Winning isn't everything--but wanting to win is."
  • "It's easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you're a winner, when you're number one. What you've got to have is faith and discipline when you're not yet a winner."
  • "I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle-victorious."
  • "I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something good in men that really yearns for discipline."
  • "The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It's your mind you have to convince."
  • "Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It's a state of mind-you could call it character in action."
  • "Confidence is contagious and so is lack of confidence, and a customer will recognize both."
  • "If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done."
  • "Unless a man believes in himself and makes a total commitment to his career and puts everything he has into it-his mind, his body and his heart-what is life worth to him? If I were a salesman, I would make this commitment to my company, to the product and most of all, to myself."
  • "Leadership rests not only upon ability, not only upon capacity; having the capacity to lead is not enough. The leader must be willing to use it. His leadership is then based on truth and character. There must be truth in the purpose and will power in the character."
  • "Leadership is based on a spiritual quality; the power to inspire, the power to inspire others to follow."
  • "Having the capacity to lead is not enough. The leader must be willing to use it."
  • "A leader must identify himself with the group, must back up the group, even at the risk of displeasing superiors. He must believe that the group wants from him a sense of approval. If this feeling prevails, production, discipline, morale will be high, and in return, you can demand the cooperation to promote the goals of the company."
  • "Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile."
  • "Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit."
  • "To achieve success, whatever the job we have, we must pay a price."
  • "Success is like anything worthwhile. It has a price. You have to pay the price to win and you have to pay the price to get to the point where success is possible. Most important, you must pay the price to stay there."
  • "Once you agree upon the price you and your family must pay for success, it enables you to ignore the minor hurts, the opponent's pressure, and the temporary failures."
  • "They call it coaching but it is teaching. You do not just tell show them the reasons."
  • "The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender."
  • "It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men."
  • "In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail."
  • "They may not love you at the time, but they will later."
Mental Toughness
  • "There's only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. I do, and I demand that my players do."
  • "If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you'll be fired with enthusiasm."
  • "Mental toughness is essential to success."
  • "You never win a game unless you beat the guy in front of you. The score on the board doesn't mean a thing. That's for the fans. You've got to win the war with the man in front of you. You've got to get your man."
  • "Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work."
  • "Teams do not go physically flat, they go mentally stale."
  • "Teamwork is what the Green Bay Packers were all about. They didn't do it for individual glory. They did it because they loved one another…"
  • "People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society."
  • "The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual."
  • "The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will."
  • "The spirit, the will to win and the will to excel-these are the things that endure and these are the qualities that are so much more important than any of the events that occasion them."
  • "It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere."
  • "A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done."
  • "If you'll not settle for anything less than your best, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in your lives.
  • "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."



    Special thanks to the Estate of Vince Lombardi

I am firmly convinced that the biggest part of being a good fire service leader has little to do with firefighting. Don't get me wrong. There is certain amount of technical competence required. Most often, firefighters know what has to be done. Usually they are technically competent.  If there is no or poor leadership, then the ship will begin to sink! 
About the author: Chief Ronald Richards has over 28 years of fire service experience, both career and volunteer. He rose through the ranks in the Forest City Fire Department, in Forest City, PA and became Fire Chief in 1995 holding that position through 2000 when he retired. He currently serves as the Chief for Training and Safety for Browndale Fire Company in Wayne County, PA. Chief Richards has over 24 years of service with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, having served as a Fire Marshal with the Department of Public Welfare, a Fire and Safety Specialist with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Currently, he is Superintendent Assistant  within the PA Department of Corrections, responsible for media relations, litigation coordination, accreditation, and the writing of policies and procedures. Chief Richards graduated from the State University of New York with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Service Administration.  Richards is a PA State Fire Instructor and an instructor with Command School.  He is the founder of
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