Rule 8: Do the Tough Stuff First

The choice to select the day's work activities is typically made by the company officer at the beginning of each shift. In fact, the list of duties is generally left up to the station/company commander with the exception of emergency responses and some...


The choice to select the day's work activities is typically made by the company officer at the beginning of each shift. In fact, the list of duties is generally left up to the station/company commander with the exception of emergency responses and some planned events such as designated training...


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The tendency was to leave perceived "difficult job assignments" until the last possible time. Oddly enough, waiting to deliver bad news (about discipline or anything) never made the information better or easier for me to deliver. It just added to the agony of being the bearer of the unpleasant fact of process. It took a while, but I realized that this was not helping anyone and that handling the difficult personnel issues in a timely fashion was the only way to deal fairly with this difficult duty.

If you complete the tough jobs at the first of your shift, the day will get easier as you go. I understand that this rule is a blinding flash of the obvious, but it is important enough to remind everyone of its value and power. As a direct result of taking the tough issues head-on, you will develop a solid reputation as a member/officer who is a high performer and can prioritize properly, keeping the organization's needs ahead of your own. More times than not during a shift, that long-awaited response alarm would sound that allowed me to use my fire or EMT skills.

I signed up to be able to help people and for all of the excitement and challenge. If I had the fortitude to complete the less-desirable or more-difficult assignments before the action-packed events occurred, that made for a wonderful day at work. However, when I would let things get out of balance (fail to handle the tough stuff early), difficult times always seemed to be just around the corner. I can't count the number of times that I have completed budget documents on a weekend or stayed over late to complete personnel evaluation forms that were required for a member to receive a timely pay increase because an emergency event took up all of my shift time.

If you handle the most difficult items first, every day will seem like a holiday at work. Prioritize your shift time first thing each new day, recognizing that the most difficult elements of the day should be tackled as soon as you can.

DENNIS L. RUBIN, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is chief of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Previously, Rubin was chief of the Atlanta, GA, Fire and Rescue Department. He holds a bachelor of science degree in fire administration from the University of Maryland and an associate in applied science degree in fire science management from Northern Virginia Community College, and is enrolled in the Fire and Emergency Management Administration program at the graduate school of Oklahoma State University. Rubin is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officers Program, is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) and has obtained the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) designation from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He is an adjunct faculty member of the National Fire Academy and author of the book Rube's Rules for Survival.