Sunday, February 17, 2013

Does this run require an emergency response?

There is nothing sweeter than seeing a shiny red (or black over red…) fire engine with a Q2B siren blaring and red lights blinking. It is a sight to behold.

With the above beautiful image in mind, the age old question of, “what should we run emergency traffic to?” is a more important question now than ever.

In urban areas of our country, traffic is at a much higher density than ever before. This is simply due to a more concentrated population. The higher speed limits, the higher number of interstates, the higher number of multiple lane city streets, and more intersections have created a situation that can be tragic for that shiny fire engine responding to a call.

With the added risks, what types of calls are we running emergency traffic to? If you hit that master warning switch, is it ACTUALLY an emergency?  If you end up in an accident or cause someone else to have an accident due to your response, it is a justified emergency run?

Society has changed. We now live in a society where a lawyer is a phone call away and just because you have given your life to helping others, it doesn’t make you exempt from consequences. Consequences such as civil penalties, criminal charges, company PR nightmares, and career damage. Are you doing what is right? Firefighters must think rather than just acting. Remember, “You only spin because you are unprepared.” It is your job as a driver and officer to use your head. We are professionals remember?

I encourage all organizations to take a minute to state in the form of policy what is an actual emergency. Train on the standard. Teach others to use their heads. We need to stop hitting the master warning switch every time the tones drop. Only a portion of our job is an actual emergency. Some examples of what is not an emergency (remember this is my opinion, but take time to think about my opinion before you just disagree. Also keep in mind; we are educated professionals in the fire service, not fly by night vigilantes.)

Tree down (unless there is a life hazard such as tree on an occupied vehicle etc..)
- Elevator rescues (unless there is a medical emergency inside)
- Many types of service calls.
- Most smoke investigation in the area calls (check out your CAD comments, information from the caller, etc…)

On the flip side of this conversation, don’t allow yourself to become complacent either. If it is dispatched as a high priority call, treat it as such until you prove otherwise. Remember that we deal with worst-case scenarios.

Just do what is right. Take a minute when the buzzer goes off to think about the call. Is it really an emergency? If we run emergency traffic, can we justify it? If the unthinkable occurs, can you justify the run? Can you sleep at night with your decision?

To close, this job is dangerous enough without taking unjustified risks. We will never be able to eliminate the danger of our job entirely. We can however, reduce the level of risk we take by simply taking a minute to assess our decisions before acting.

Be smart out there and respond safely. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

YOU can be a leader today!

 As a firefighter, are you focused on your own self promotion, or promotion of the company?

That simple question opens the door for many roads to travel down. But as a fire service leader or up and coming leader, have you asked this question to yourself?

What is a fire service leader? The first answer usually out of everyone’s mouth is “officer”. While the answer “officer” is an accepted answer, this is not the only answer or possibly even the best answer. A fire service leader can be any firefighter. Notice that I refrained from using the terms “manager” or “officer”, but chose to use “leader”. The missing link in your company could be you. If you take an "informal leadership" role, your company's potential may sky rocket. 

Lets take it back a step. What is leadership in the fire service?  Think about it.

-The ability to positively influence the company both in the house and on the street?

-The ability to create a positive atmosphere in which company strength can be developed through training?

-The ability to have an influence on others in the company by a show of example?  Doing the right thing always, knowing your job, and knowing your tools.

-The ability to have a personal mindset that places the company success before your own success?

Personal development is very important in this business as is education. The new fire service is quickly moving forward. Continuing education and developing yourself and your mind is critical. Don’t be left behind. However, while engaging in your personal development, share it with others. Encourage your brother/sisters to join you in your personal development. Every firefighter that takes their career, education, fitness, and skills to the next level assists in bringing the company to the next level.

What kinds of behaviors constitute “leadership”?

- Encouraging others to train with you on a topic instead of taking an “easy day”.

- Leading by example: Checking off the truck, checking your airpack, organizing your gear, practicing your skills, maintaining a clean firehouse and truck, and treating each day on the job as the day “the big one” is going to occur.

-Take company pride everyday, no matter how bad of a day it is.
Perseverance is a character trait to be proud of.

-Take an interest in your physical fitness and the company’s physical fitness. Remember, in this job, you rely on the members of your company to help you out in a bad situation. Everyone in the company should be focused on physical fitness for not only their own health, but the safety of your brothers/sisters.

-Go out and get an education. Go back to school for your degree, take an NFA course, work on your certifications, study the territory, read a book on the fire service, or refresh yourself on skills already studied.

-Encourage other members of the company with more experience to share that experience and real world skill craft with others. It doesn’t help the company if only one guy knows how to do that.

“ You don’t work for me. You work with me.”
- Captain Brian Goodwin

The above quote is one that my Captain said to me one night while helping me clean the bathrooms during house work in 2012. I liked the quote because I feel like many fire service officers do not have that style or view on their company. I wrote an article for Tailboard Firefighting of North Carolina in April of 2012 on the topic of management versus leadership. Again touching briefly on that topic, if you an officer are you a manager or a leader? Remember, a manager ensures that his subordinates complete assigned tasks. A leader creates an example, a focus, a team, and mentors others on the team to build the group’s abilities and success level. Are you the fire officer that you imagined yourself being when you rode the back step? Are you a fire officer that firefighters will shape themselves after when they reach promotion? Be honest with yourself. As the officer, developing your men/women for the future and allowing them to think on their own, giving them the tools for success, and letting them excel in their career is your job.

“A football team votes on its Captains to represent them: if your company or department were to vote, would you still be Captain?”
- Firefighter Jeff Hannum

In a society that focuses on “how can I get ahead and look good”, the members of the fire service cannot let that become our focus. Take a look at yourself and make a change if needed. Finally, no one person makes the company or fire service. We don’t have superstars. Share knowledge and ideas. We need to build the company up. If every company builds themselves up, the fire service is taken to the next level.  Be open to changing and love your job everyday. When you think the grass is greener doing something else, picture yourself doing anything else. It might put things back in perspective.

Be safe out there, step up and lead, even if you are not the officer.