Condo Fire: Leading in Crisis

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(I took first place in a speech contest with the below—this is not a transcript of my talk, but a close approximation)

The fire alarm was not a rehearsal. But I was unaware—sound asleep.

I slept through multiple knocks on my door as I drifted from dreamland to reality. I vaguely heard conversations in the hallway and thought, “Who would be talking at this late hour? How rude.”


I was startled by pounding on my door. The knocking had turned to banging.

“Just a minute, I’m coming.”

I got out of bed, put on my slippers, and opened the door. The frantic individual said, “The building fire alarm is going off!”

“Okay, I’ll get my clothes on.”

I put on a pair of pants, a warm-up jacket, and my glasses. Then I grabbed my winter coat and stepped into the hallway.

The blaring alarm and the people heading to the staircase suggested the fire was real. I reflected on my training and decided to focus on three skills to help others.

Everyone can help others by demonstrating three values people seek from a leader during a crisis: honesty, clarity, and consistency.


A woman from the far end of the hallway shouted, “Is it real?”

“Yes,” I responded. While I wasn’t sure, I was confident that the late hour suggested it was not a drill. A sensor had to have detected something. There had to be a real threat, but how significant was yet to be determined.

Referring to her husband, the woman said, “We can’t use the elevator during a fire, so we have to stay in our designated area until the firemen can move us. We have a phone number to call.”

I had no idea my words could impact such an important decision about calling that special phone number.

Had I chosen to comfort and relieve their worry by saying, “No,” the firemen would never have known they were in the building. The couple needed the unadulterated truth. I was thankful my answer was “Yes.”


I made my way to the lobby. A group was arguing about whether the alarm was real. Some just wanted to delay standing in the wintery night.

I shared a clear and succinct message for everyone to move outside. I stated clear and simple action steps and headed toward the door. Others followed. 

The firetruck pulled up as we exited the building. The response time could’ve been better for a station three blocks away. But the delay did give us time to get out of the building.

As the firemen headed inside, a few people asked me what would happen next. I said, “The firemen will read the lobby control panel to determine what sensor set off the alarm and head to that room.”

Shoulders drop and people relaxed a bit. A sense of peace came over those who heard the clear truth. While we didn’t know the outcome, honesty coupled with clarity reduced the anxiety level of others.

I saw the Lieutenant open a door and watched smoke billow into the hallway. The fire was real.

What I observed were firemen that weren’t concerned. That made me curious as I watched the smoke dissipate. There was very little smoke, which raised a few questions in my mind.

None of the firemen headed to the fire engine for more equipment or hoses. That suggested the fire was contained or small enough to handle with a fire extinguisher.

I found the Lieutenant to learn the facts.

He said, “There was a small electrical fire, but we couldn’t find the source. The room was sealed, and the smoke absorbed the oxygen and extinguished the fire. You’re all set. Call us if the fire starts up again.”

The Lieutenant’s comment didn’t give me any hope, but his clarity reduced my concerns. Since the room held new water heaters, it was possible the smoke was caused by a label burning off a hot metal piece. There was no real threat.


As the firetrucks left, a few residents hounded me for information. I quieted the group and led them into the water heater room. A few entered, but most stayed at the door and peeked inside.

Consistency was foremost on my mind. I needed to speak honestly and clearly, as I had already done, to maintain consistency. The reason for consistency is to build trust.

I said, “There was a small electrical fire that produced enough smoke to put itself out due to the lack of oxygen in the room. The Lieutenant didn’t see any threat at this time.”

One woman asked, “Is there anything we can do to avoid this issue in the future?”

“No specific cause was mentioned, except that the equipment detected and labeled the fire as an electrical fire. The only thing I can see is that the three water heaters are plugged into the same extension cord. However, the Lieutenant said there was enough amperage to cover the electrical draw of all three water heaters on the same outlet, so it wasn’t the cause.”

I suggested that the board could consider running conduit with separate outlet boxes to each machine, but it wasn’t necessary.

Then I realized some people just needed to hear that everything was clear, so I said, “There were no signs of fire or cause that needed to be addressed tonight. The fire is over, there is no longer a threat, and I’m returning to bed.”

The crowd dispersed with enough confidence in our safety to sleep well.

My attempt at leadership in a crisis was complete. Everyone was comfortable with heading back to their condos. The evening was a success because I demonstrated honesty, clarity, and consistency during a crisis.

Should you one day find yourself in a crisis, help those around you by demonstrating honesty, clarity, and consistency.

Copyright © 2023 by CJ Powers

Franklin’s Recommendation Helps Us Today

Toward the end of summer in 1772, Joseph Priestley required help from his friend, Benjamin Franklin. Priestley was a scientist, theologian, and liberal political theorist. 

Joseph Priestley

His dilemma was deciding between the acceptance of a scientific opportunity that would provide him a full lab, and continuing his ministry within the Unitarian church. Priestley wrote Franklin, hoping for a clear response. Instead, of suggesting an answer, Franklin explained his weighted process for difficult decisions.

The process was a weighted version of what we consider today as a pro and con sheet.

Franklin instructed Priestley to fold a sheet of paper in half and write the word “Pros” on one side and “Cons” on the other. He was then to write down all pros and cons that came to mind over a four-day period.

The four days were important to Franklin because humans think in groupings (or chunks) of ideas. When one grouping is at the forefront of our minds, it blocks other thoughts from coming forward. Franklin explained that our minds never think about the pros and cons at the same time. 

Benjamin Franklin

Once we write down the abbreviated central idea of each, we can forget about it and move on to other ideas worth capturing.

Franklin also suggested Priestley weigh each item based on the impact of purpose. 

At the end of the four-day process, Franklin recommended a review of the two lists. If there were similar items across from other items, Priestley was to strike through the words.

It’s important to use a single line to strike the words so they are still readable.

Franklin explained that if there was a single similar, yet more heavily weighted item in one column, across from two lesser weighted items, all three can be struck at the same time. Any combination of similar items that equates to a balance of weighting can be marked at the same time.

By following this pattern, Priestley quickly reduced the complex decision down to a couple of key factors. This made his decision simple. He left the ministry and opened up an incredible science lab.

This decision led Priestley to discover a process that creates Oxygen used by first responders and hospitals ever since.  Priestley described the O2 as being “five to six times better than common air.”

Copyright © 2022 by CJ Powers

The New Power Couple

I have a friend who dreams of finding the right guy. She longs to be part of a team that helps others and makes a difference in life. It’s her lifelong goal to be half of a power couple.

This is a common desire for both men and women in the early stages of healthy dating. We always want to dream of our future and picture our teammate helping to make sure our dreams come true. And most of us want to reciprocate.

But in many marriages, one of the two individuals bring a critical eye to the relationship. Most of the time the couple takes turns being critical of the other.

For instance, one might be a neat freak and the other sloppy. The sloppy person gets criticized in hopes that they will one day mature and pick up after themselves. But alas, that person has a mental aversion to putting things away.

The table turns on the couple when it comes to finances. The person that leaves their socks on the floor happens to be great at investments and has doubled the couple’s money every seven years. But, the neat freak spends every extra dollar they get.

If you want to turn your marriage into a power couple or dream team, consider these four steps to empower a healthy marriage.

Affirm Away the Critical

We can never change the other person. But the more we affirm the right actions, the more likely they will choose to do similar things in the future. When we’re critical of each other, we want to spend less time together. But when we hear our spouse praise our actions that make the marriage work, we tend to repeat those behaviors more often.

I did something similar with my kids as they grew up. I’d keep a keen eye on them so the moment they did something helpful for the family, I’d bath them in praise. That positive affirmation improved our family. Everyone wanted to see the family succeed.

This team atmosphere empowered us to do some remarkable things. We made a radio drama that aired on WGN Radio as a part of a family competition. where we received an all-expenses-paid vacation to Disneyland. We made an animated cartoon and our family story got published in a Chicago newspaper. We also did more local things including building a cardboard boat and competed in a boat regatta. And, we took first place for most original float one fourth of July.

Brag on Your Spouse in Public

Every time you praise your spouse in public, you strengthen your marriage. That positive energy lifts our spouse and solidifies in everyone’s mind that you two are a team. This works even better when your spouse overhears your comments.

Great compliments are about your spouse’s character traits, actions, and giftings. The key is to be authentic and not force the topic. The positive comment must fit the conversation. If it comes out of the blue, it seems disingenuous.

Back when I was married, my wife had a goal of writing a magazine article for a major magazine. She was a wonderful writer and the competition was intense. When she got her breakthrough, I understood what a joyous moment that was.

I couldn’t help but share it with friends and throw her a surprise autograph party. I got enough copies of the national magazine featuring her article so she could sign a copy for everyone. While she didn’t like being in the spotlight, everyone knew that I was proud of her.

Care for Your Spouse’s Overzealous Strengths

I was once taught that our giftings are both a blessing and a curse. For instance, the person gifted with perseverance might come across as stubborn. We love that their perseverance will help us all to succeed, but we can’t stand it when they won’t take a break at times.

Some of my friends love my diverse background and eclectic knowledge. But there are times when they can see my mental wheels turning and wish that I’d turn off my brain for a time. Some have gotten upset to the point of calling me a know-it-all.

A great spouse and team player would signal me when my sharing gets over the top. After all, I can get caught up in the moment and over-share at times. A good teammate can help us navigate our zealousness.

Divvy-up Bad Chores

In all relationships, we learn that both individuals hate certain chores. At that point, we have to discuss who will take on what issues so our couple-ness can prosper.

I remember a time when I was married, my wife made it clear that she was not able to pick up after the dog barfed. She could handle dirty diapers, but animal vomit that turned her green.

At that moment, we decided that I’d be the primary cleaner when one of our dogs got sick. In turn, she wanted to be the primary diaper changer. Over our 23-year marriage, we both handle both types of clean-up. When we were both available, we took care of our primary functions to keep us moving forward.

Build Your Power Couple Dream Team

Keep an eye out to find your spouse doing something right and give them praise. When given an open door in conversation, take time to brag about your spouse in public.

Don’t let your spouse’s overzealous passions separate you. Instead, keep them in a healthy zone using signals. And, learn what chores your spouse can’t stand and lighten their load by picking up what you can handle.

By focusing on these things daily, you’ll guide your couple’s dream team into a new world of leadership. Many people are desperate for a healthy marriage role model couple. It’s time for you to practice these steps and help those around you do the same.

Copyright © 2021 by CJ Powers