Why fire hardens the toughest steel

fire and steel

When the fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night, you don’t need anyone to tell you to get up and get out of the building. All human beings have the innate desire for survival. This means we immediately start to look for the exit when the building catches fire.

If you don’t know exactly where to turn when the lights are out and the building is full of smoke, human survival instincts will help you break a window to get out of a burning building. You learned as an infant, what every other person on the planet knows:  Fire burns. Burns hurt. Therefore, get out of a burning building at all costs. 

That’s what makes fire fighters and emergency personnel some of my heroes. The sheer willpower it takes to overcome their own personal nature and run INTO a burning building while every other human being is running out is amazing!  

Last week I had the chance to interview one of my heroes, Lieutenant Mark Nygard, who has served for decades in one of America’s largest metropolitan fire departments.  

Mark shared some of the insights and challenges of serving in the Tacoma, Washington, Fire Department for more than 20 years.  Most people reading this article will never have to muster up the physical courage to go into a burning building, but you may have to face other challenges in life that are just as scary.

I was fascinated to hear Mark describe how successful fire departments help recruits overcome the innate human fear for personal safety and build in them the willingness to put their own life at stake for people stranded in a burning building.  

Here are a few things that stuck with me from Episode 7 of UNBEATABLE with my guest, Fire Lieutenant Mark Nygard.

Embrace evaluations

The toughest steel is forged in the hottest fire. Steel goes through the process of meticulous forging, tempering, and folding to create a piece of art. Just like steel, Mark has undergone a battery of physical and mental tests to check his endurance and mental ability to handle life-and-death situations. 

Most of us hate to be tested.  Evaluations and tests produce unwanted stress that cause some people to crumble. Imagine being tested every minute of every day for the entire first year of work. Most of us would never be able to hold up under that kind of fire. However, those that adapt to the stress end up becoming stronger through it.

Whether it’s reporting a quarterly earnings statement to the shareholders or an annual performance review, most of us live and work in an environment where you are being evaluated. The idea that you don’t have to dread your company’s evaluation process is the first lesson you can learn from Mark. Just like fire forges steel, you can look at your work evaluation as an opportunity to get better at your job and grow stronger.

Break down any barrier

Mark leads a group of talented and dedicated men and women who work round the clock to respond in every emergency. They go to work unsure if they will make it home safely every day. Yet, despite all of the dangers, Mark and the rest of his team will break down walls to get inside a burning building…literally!

I don’t need to know you or the industry in which you work to know that you face challenges.

Everybody has barriers to success. However, the strongest people are those that don’t allow their barriers to define their future. Like Mark and other first responders, they are the ones who tackle any barrier to accomplish their mission and save lives.

Most barriers in life are not insurmountable, but they’re just very hard to overcome.  Let’s face it; if the challenges in your life were easy to handle, we wouldn’t call them barriers.  Fire rescue workers will cut off a car door to get to a crash victim. They will chop a hole in a room or a wall to rescue someone in a building.  These heroes don’t let any barrier stand in their way of saving a life.  

Don’t let any barrier stand in your way. When you face challenges this week, you can let them overwhelm you, OR you can find a way through them.

Trust your training

Every second is crucial to saving somebody in a burning building. This is the reason why most firefighters spend more of their time in the station than they do at home. There are endless hours of training for every second that a firefighter spends in an actual emergency situation.  

This type of training is designed to help a person overcome their innate desire for survival and focus their attention on somebody stranded inside a burning building. To be successful in any highly dangerous or demanding profession, you have to learn to trust your training.

I hope you never find yourself in a burning building. However, if you do, I hope you live in the kind of community where men and women like Mark Nygard live and work. But, even if you are not a firefighter, chances are, you’re going to find yourself in a challenging situation at work or in your personal life.

The building may not be physically burning down around you, but the business may be crumbling to the ground financially. Perhaps your family, marriage, or your health is burning to ash right now and you don’t know what to do next.

Learning the lessons that Mark described in the last episode will help you overcome your fear and be UNBEATABLE this week.

Listen to the whole interview HERE

Further reading