Saturday, November 3, 2012

The importance of holding firefighters accountable

The firehouse culture that takes feelings into account before job proficiency and responsibility is dangerous. Giving people a hard time to prove a point is no longer acceptable and will often times land you a trip to the boss’ office.  A hard time is firehouse culture folks, and there is a reason. Firefighter Accountability. 

The school of hard knocks has been in existence in the fire service for long before anyone reading this article has ever thought about a fire truck. The firehouse culture is a proving ground that prepares you for all aspects of the job. Many would call this type of bantering or belittling someone as “hazing”. I disagree fully. We are not branding someone’s skin or stabbing you in the chest with your fire badge. You teach values, responsibility, attention to detail, and pride out of this school of hard knocks. For example, Johnny firefighter with a few years on the job always forgets to bring in soap for showering. A little bit of verbal jousting may be required to “motivate” Johnny to not forget his personal items for his tour of duty. Many of you may think that this is a trivial area that we shouldn’t be concerned with and that we have bigger things to worry over. You are wrong. Today, Johnny forgets his soap again and we just give him some and let it go. Tomorrow, Johnny forgets his fire gloves on a run. The next day Johnny forgets his portable radio, and the following day, Johnny forgets how to pull YOU out of a fire when the floor collapses. Such a simple task like bringing soap from home teaches responsibility, accountability, and memory. It is the small things in the firehouse that branch out and build you as a firefighter.

You are the Fire Chief of a small 2 firehouse, town fire department. You have a company officer that continues to make tactical decisions that many complain about. You are worried that these continued uninformed, sketchy decisions would get someone hurt or worse yet, killed. The officer does not take criticism well and will lash out if he is called out. What do you do?

I know what everyone will say should be done. That is, deal with the problem directly, offer that officer more training, and do your job as the fire chief to correct a failure of your company officers. That is great that most will see that this is the appropriate course of action. The problem here is that most everyone that is in a position that encounters substandard subordinate performance will not correct or even address the problem. Officers are too busy being office managers and worrying about a supply order than leading their people. As an equal rank to a substandard firefighter, is it ok to run your mouth a little to shine light on the problem and inspire a bit of motivation? Yes it is ok. Remember, the performance of your other company members directly affects you and your survival. Should you offer assistance to the substandard employee in the form of advice or training? Absolutely. Your team is only as ready as your weakest firefighter.

I am not perfect. I have never claimed to be. I am the new boy on my crew with almost 3 years on the job at my current assignment full time. The new boy’s job is to fill the ice bucket daily. I forget that ice bucket regularly. My crew, most of which are seasoned fireman at this assignment, give me hell. I get junk talked to me and I deserve it. They are teaching me responsibility. It is my job, and I let them down. I get caught up in “important” things and I forget the little things. Now we don’t have ice at the dinner table because of me. See how this works?

Don’t forget to tell folks when they do a good job. Don’t always jump in on the bad, unless they just don’t get it. Firemen that don’t get it should be shown the door. That may seem like harsh words, but if my life depends on you, I expect you to know your stuff. This feel good service is going to get people hurt. If today’s firefighter cannot take a little junk at the house, how in God’s name will they take seeing people mutilated in accidents, or vicious assaults? The best Fire Chief I ever had would tell you when you made a good decision, did a good job, and was not afraid to tell you when you needed to change a behavior.

This goes for training also. You know the substandard firefighter (“Mutt” in firehouse slang) that cannot ever get motivated and HATES to train? If you are a career guy, you get PAID to train for the job. How much better does that get? Training is getting to go to recess for me. It takes us away from the admin duties, the firehouse drama, the stress of life, and allows us to sharpen our skills. Bottom line, it is fun. When I finish training, I love the job even more. I am pumped up and ready to take in a run. It refreshes you, nourishes you, and builds you and your crew up. Train daily. It’s like exercise. You start doing it everyday and it becomes part of your life and you feel malnourished without it.

Officers, you need to mandate training. It is NOT ok for some substandard firefighters to exclude themselves from the crew during training and run off to hide. We need to stop trying to make everyone feel welcome and run a FIREHOUSE. If they cannot be apart of the crew, show them the door. If they care and are trying, make every attempt in your every being to help them out, encourage them, and teach them. If you as an officer cannot be a leader, step aside before something bad happens.

“Leadership without management accomplishes nothing, and management without leadership accomplishes a whole lot of nothing.” – Dr.Richard Gasaway

 I sat at the kitchen table on a recent night after training at my firehouse. I looked around and at the seasoned brothers eating their dinner. I thought to myself, what an honor it is to dine at this table and live in this house. There are hundreds of people that would love to sit in my seat. It is an honor. Not a privilege. Being part of the brotherhood is an honor you are given. Not a privilege. Just because you work in the house and think you are a fireman, doesn’t make you part of the brothers. You have to be accepted into this elite group by working hard and loving the job.

I am introducing two new terminologies for guys that “get it”.

“New Firefighting Order”. The New Firefighting Order is today’s firefighters building the fire service in today’s world with yesterday’s history, knowledge, and values. #NFFO

The new term is #GHM. It stands for “Go Home Mutts.” We are taking a stand to not let the paycheck guy ruin this fine profession and lifestyle. Keep pushing for what is right, train hard and consistently, love the job, and stay safe out there.

Dr.Richard Gasaway who is quoted above is with Situational Awareness Matters.

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