when others fly out, the heroes fly in

The title of today’s post came from a movie I watched recently! Yes Planes: Fire and Rescue was the first movie I watched in a long while. Post-UKBound treat much 🙂


Fire-fighter planes. Get the pun? Firefighter. Fighter plane. Woohoo!

Planes is undoubtedly a kids’ movie; I think my sister and I were the only 15+ years old people there when we sat in the movie theatre (save for the dads and mums who took their kids to watch the movie). Yet, the more I think about the movie now, the more I realise the themes pertaining to leadership and civil service / defence that the movie encompasses. I seldom do this but decided Planes is worthy of a little self reflection from me 🙂 (pardon my very limited vocabulary though, it’s been a while since I wrote an essay)

So my key learning points from Planes

1. Running in when everyone else is running out

It really takes a special breed of people to be a firefighter. Others run from the fire while you run towards it, and you need the physical and mental grit to withstand the heat, the glare, the fear of being engulfed the next minute by flames, to rescue whoever you can from the scene. Firefighting is a dangerous vocation as well; although you have lots of protective gear on you, you know that if required, you have to sacrifice your life to protect others.

That led me to recall the concept of “unlimited liability”. In the military, “unlimited liability” is the term for paying the ultimate price to preserve what we promise to preserve, i.e. put our lives on the line in place of others’ lives. Extending that to the police force, firefighters, paramedics etc, a similar concept seems to apply as well, even though there is no explicit statement on the “unlimited liability” of members of the civil defence force. It leads me to ponder: what does it take to give an individual the courage to stand midst the fire and put others’ lives before his/her own? How much conviction does it take for a person to run towards a firing machine gun while others run from it? Do I have strong enough a reason to be the barrier between the threat and the people I promise to protect? Am I ready to sacrifice my life for others, be it my family, friends, social circles, or even strangers?

2.  Tough does not mean nasty


That would be quite a cool callsign.

I remember this quote back from my training days: “The best treatment you can give your soldiers is tough, quality training.” With respect to that, Blade Ranger is probably your classic example of the stern commander that exercises ‘tough love’. Honed by many years of experience, he demands high standards and accuracy from Dusty in day-to-day training, and he might even get stingy on giving praises for good performance. Yet, his greatest priority is the team’s / trainee’s safety and welfare. When the fire hits, he becomes the centralising force for the entire firefighting squad, and he goes the many extra miles to protect his teammates. (Even while he was supposed to recover from serious damage in a massive forest fire operation, he did not hesitate to fly out of his hangar and come to Dusty’s support in evacuating victims out of literally a sea of flames)

With credit to his selflessness, wisdom and calmness in the face of adversity, Blade Ranger had left a very deep impression in me, even deeper than Dusty. To some extent, he might even be my informal role model in leadership and command. I was reading about four stages in leadership: leading at the front, leading from the side, leading from behind, leading from within. In the operational setting, Blade leads from the front because his teammates would need a capable, calming figure to guide and motivate everyone; during training, he leads from the side, objectively pointing out your mistakes and balancing between strictness and care. Yet, in the most volatile of situations, he leads from within, supporting his team in whichever role they need additional help in, to achieve success on a whole. My leadership style may differ from his slightly, but I look up to him as a figure that I would like to emulate.

3. Change in good times, change in good time

Quoted from the book I was reading! Anyway, like how Dusty changed from being a racer to a firefighter (because of his damaged gearbox), I guess life would not always go the way we want it to, and we have to be always ready for contingencies. What I like about Dusty though is that he adjusted his decision to fit the needs of the community he was living in (becoming a firefighter because the town was desperately in need of one). Although he is a worldwide-acclaimed racer, he still has his heart in the people (or fellow planes and automobiles) of his hometown, and I respect him for that.

4. Serve those whom you promise to serve

Sort of linked to my first point, but just that the theme got stuck in my head even after the movie. I have a duty to fulfill – how do I fulfill it? What are the implications when I take on this duty? What can I do to better prepare myself for my duty?

Am I ready to serve those whom I promise to serve?

Yep so… that kind of sums it all up 🙂

By the way, so someone asked me on my opinions regarding the placing of a lower limit to the percentage of women that take on director roles in private organisations. Ask me that question a year ago and I would probably say yes, please have a lower limit, because we girls deserve the same entitlement as the guys to job advancement and leadership in the commercial setting.

Now, however, my viewpoint is very simple: I won’t mind a lower limit, but I don’t think there’s an absolute need for it. If a lady deserves a director role and has shown herself to be capable of it, she would make it there with her own abilities; there is no need for additional drivers to put her in that position. Give her exactly equal chances as her male counterparts to progress, just don’t shortchange her with stereotypes and outdated mental models. Give her the same amount of space to grow as her male peers, and she will show you what she’s capable of.


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