From the Chiefís Corner

Watch your PSI
By Chief Sam DiGiovanna
Verdugo Fire Academy/Lexipol Consultant

In the fire academy, we teach recruits about PSI — and how important it is in operating the engine. If the PSI is too high, the hoseline becomes stiff and difficult to handle, or even fails to deliver an effective fire stream. If the PSI is too low, the hoseline is easy to handle, but you wonít have enough gpm to put out the fire or youíll encounter hose kinking. Thatís why we establish standard PSI pressures for various types of nozzles.

But thereís another kind of PSI, one thatís just as important in the fire service but that doesnít make the academy curriculum. Itís your Personal Self-Image. This PSI is the mental picture you have of yourself. Maybe you consider yourself smart, quick-witted or brave (or all three!). Maybe you see yourself as shy or socially awkward. You might obtain self-worth from being a provider or a friend — or a firefighter. If youíve been through serious illness, injury or grief, perhaps you see yourself as a survivor — or a victim. All of that is your PSI.

If youíre pumping a high PSI, you have a positive self-image; you most likely have a lot of confidence in your thoughts and actions. Conversely, if your PSI is running low, youíll likely have a negative self-image, making you doubtful of your capabilities and ideas.

OK chief, thatís all well and good, but what does it have to do with the fire service?

Glad you asked. Understanding how PSI affects our actions and the actions of our fellow firefighters can help us improve our leadership skills and overall career success. Do you know someone who drives you crazy because theyíre always fishing for compliments and self-promoting when they get them? You might think that person has a very high PSI. But in fact, individuals with low PSI often self-promote so they can convince themselves and others of their own value by the feedback they receive from peers, department administration, or even their own children and spouses. On the surface, these people can seem egotistical, but in fact they lack self-confidence. Knowing that about them can help you interact with them more effectively.

Thereís a positive side to low PSI, however; people with low PSI often work very hard and strive to be high achievers because they can then get the acclaim of others, in the hope that this acclaim will somehow prove their worth.

Conversely, people who have a very high PSI often do not feel the need to self-promote or prove themselves to others — thatís generally a positive thing. But if PSI gets too high, it can kill the motivation to push oneself to achieve. Thatís why some people with very high PSI can come off as arrogant and complacent and may in fact be labeled as underachievers. Their self-image is so high that they just donít care what you think of them, and theyíre not motivated to work for your approval! Again, knowing this can help you adjust your tactics as a leader.

Like most things in life, the key to PSI lies in finding balance. Itís important to feel positive about yourself, to be comfortable with who you are and not to feel the need to constantly prove yourself or self-promote. On the other hand, drawing some of your self-worth from how others perceive you is generally a good thing; it makes you sensitive to the needs of others and willing to serve. So, how do you know that youíre in balance, that your ďpumpĒ is running smoothly? For me, there are two key factors to consider:
  • Your PSI generally matches how others see you. Surprisingly, how you see yourself can be very different from how the world sees you. Is there someone in your organization that has a high opinion of themselves but is generally poorly regarded by others? If so, itís a red flag.
  • You can bounce back from negative events. Of course what happens to us in life affects our happiness and can shape our self-image. But people with balanced PSI operate with consistency; theyíre like smooth-running engines that rev up when additional power is needed but are just as quick to return to idle.
Your PSI has a strong impact on your happiness. If you project a positive PSI, people will be more likely to see you as an optimistic, capable person and prefer to be around you. If your PSI is throttled too high in efforts of approval-seeking, many will prefer to keep a distance from you.

Just like pumping our rigs and checking that the PSI is set properly (not too high, not too low), itís important we check our own PSI. Just as you practice situational awareness on the fireground, make sure you know and constantly check your PSI around the station and in your personal life. Keeping it set right is safer for yourself and those around you!

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. He also is a consultant for Lexipol Fire Services.