you pause to ponder the meaning of the headline on this month's column, you may be asking a simple question: Why does it matter what rig I am riding? I am a firefighter and firefighters can do anything. Nice thought, but unfortunately it ignores the reality that each of us has strengths...
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It will be harder to conduct hands-on drills for truck company people. I am not talking about the use of ladders, but rather the use of the many tools that make up the inventory on a well-equipped aerial vehicle. Engine companies can practice laying hose and pumping water without disturbing much other than passing traffic (which can be avoided by careful planning). For a truck company, with careful planning and a small amount of funding, props can be built to help you get the job done. And here is where you can grow the team a bit by letting the members exercise their imaginations.
I can recall when a group of guys offered to build a roof simulator for the city so that the truck companies could practice venting roofs. I thought it was a great opportunity for a team-building effort. Unfortunately, the city turned us down. Our estimate for this home-made project was about $200 in materials with the guys providing the labor. The city went out to bid on the project and it ended up costing about $20,000. (Actually, it cost a lot more, because the workers doing the construction dug down for the footings on which the prop would be built, disturbing an underground coal oil pocket, and the city was hit with the cost of hazardous materials remediation.)
These training-related matters are the sorts of issues you will have to address when you step into the right-front seat. Leaders who fail to train the troops are setting themselves, and their people, up for failure. When you plunk yourself into that right front seat, you need to be sure that a few things happen:
• Your brain is in the right mode (engine, truck, rescue)
• Your team is all on the same page (engine, truck, rescue)
• Your training has prepared you to work with your well-trained team to get the job done.
The key to success involves training all of your people to do all of the functions they could face. It is then up to you as the person in the right front seat to set the task-to-talent tone for a safe and effective operation. If you are riding an engine, think engine-like thoughts. If you are riding a truck, think truck-like thoughts. In either case, be sure to impart this mindset to your troops.
Only by building your fire department along these conscious thought lines can you hope to get the right mix of skills, talent and equipment working in a coordinated manner to get the job done. Riding the right rig is a frame of mind. Be sure to set yours before the driver puts the rig in gear for the ride to the emergency.
HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, and veteran of 46 years in the fire and emergency service. He is chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners of Howell Township, NJ, Fire District 2 and retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. Carter also has been a member of the Adelphia Fire Company in Howell Township for 38 years, serving as chief in 1991. Carter is a member of the American Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain, for which he formerly served as vice president and secretary. He also is president of the New Jersey Association of Fire Districts, a life member of the National Fire Protection Association and former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. Carter holds six degrees, with his terminal degree being a Ph.D. in business administration from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN, where he is an adjunct faculty member.