The Arsonist and the Fireman

Written by lewsauder

August 12, 2013

arsonist and the fireman

The arsonist and the fireman

The City’s Hero

The city was experiencing a rash of fires.  Arson was usually suspected but the source of the flame could never be proven.

Fortunately, the city had a crack firefighting squad.  Mark was the star of the show. Every fireman on the crew admitted that they wouldn’t be as successful without Mark. It seemed that at the outbreak of every fire, Mark was the one who knew exactly what to do. Everyone turned to Mark.

Mark had been with the crew for several years.  He knew every building in their district and regularly toured the buildings to insure he had familiarity.

Just yesterday, he toured a building about three blocks from the firehouse.  He developed a familiarity with the layout of each floor of the building.  I watched him with intrigue. Where most people would just walk into a room, look around and move on, he studied the room.  I watched him light a cigarette, walk around learning each nook and cranny.  He really became one with the room. I knew when we left that if this building caught on fire and Mark was on the team, that we’d be able to extinguish it in no time.

And as luck would have it, later that day when we were back at the station, the alarm went off.  Wouldn’t you know it was the building we had just visited?  Due to Mark’s intimate knowledge of the building, we were able to put the fire out quickly.  The investigators traced the fire to the very room I was talking about that Mark had studied so carefully. They just couldn’t figure out how the fire started.

After the burning – and subsequent saving – of several buildings in the area, the city decided to do a thorough investigation into the rash of fires.  After several months of reviewing past fires and monitoring new fires, they found that in almost all of these fires, Mark had recently performed an inspection of the building.

It turned out that Mark was careless with his cigarettes.  He didn’t put them out fully when he finished.  Mark, who was hailed as the city’s hero fireman was also an inadvertent arsonist, causing the very fires he was helping to put out.

Farfetched Story?

As implausible as this fable may sound, think about some of the people you work with; the heroes who everyone knows as the “go to” person.  A crisis comes up and there is usually a “Mark” that people call to help solve the problem.  He knows this system inside and out.  Pull him out of whatever meeting he’s in and have him help us fight this fire.

In fact, he’s so busy fighting the virtual fires, that he doesn’t have time to do his regular job. As a result, his regular job takes a back seat.  Things get rushed to meet a deadline because not enough time was dedicated to it.  We were so busy resolving issues we didn’t have time to implement the new system the way we wanted to.

The Arsonist and the Fireman: The Endless Cycle of Fixing

This becomes an endless cycle.  We implement fires that we end up fighting later, which cause us to implement new fires.

See my related post: The Bad Decisions We Encourage

The business of preventing fires may not result in the hero worship and reputation of indispensability.  But you may find that you have more time to innovate and grow by taking the time to do things right the first time.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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