Rule 4: Relentless Follow-Up

I am fortunate to be able visit a few different fire-EMS departments each year and check out how they operate. From departments on New York's Long Island to the West Coast, it is difficult for me not to stop in and say hello and, if the opportunity...


I am fortunate to be able visit a few different fire-EMS departments each year and check out how they operate. From departments on New York's Long Island to the West Coast, it is difficult for me not to stop in and say hello and, if the opportunity exists, to watch as members of the hosting...


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I am fortunate to be able visit a few different fire-EMS departments each year and check out how they operate. From departments on New York's Long Island to the West Coast, it is difficult for me not to stop in and say hello and, if the opportunity exists, to watch as members of the hosting department apply their trade skills.

Universally, I would say that the departments do a great job of following through with the tasks at hand. For instance, when "incident command" calls on the radio for "Division 2" working a hoseline fighting fire on the second floor and there is no response, the process is typically consistent from one agency to another. A second radio call is made in an attempt to raise the attention of the operating companies. Once that second attempt is made, usually a Mayday is transmitted and a long list of reactionary steps is taken to locate, protect and remove the companies that are in distress. Fortunately, the root cause of this Mayday rescue activity is a communications problem of one type or another and the operating units were not in too much distress.

The point of this story is that we are great at "relentlessly following up" at most emergency incidents, when our members lives are at risk. However, we get side tracked when less-interesting situations occur (perhaps the routine issues are the toughest) and follow-up is a lot more difficult, but still very important organizationally and professionally.

Follow-Up Has Its Rewards

At a seminar on quality improvement, a city manager mentioned that the city he worked for had received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for being one of the world's best-run cities. It was obvious to see the pride in the face and voice of this public-sector executive.

After discussing the award for a few minutes, the manager joked and pointed out to the group that among the qualifications that his city possessed was the ability to return the one telephone call that the evaluation team placed to this large southwestern city's switchboard late on a hot summer afternoon. As the Baldrige evaluation team would tell this city manager much later in the evaluation process, 10 calls were placed to 10 major cities around the world in a way that would generate a return call. Only two cities were willing to follow up and learn of the opportunity to be declared one of the world's best-run cities — and his was one of the two. There were many, many more performance measures that were evaluated and the entire process took over six months to complete, but the very first step to be considered was to simply follow up and return a telephone call.

I had a similar experience when I worked in Atlanta, GA. The Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. had selected the greater Atlanta area to be the host region for the second phase of the nationwide kickoff of its now very popular Heritage Program. I received a telephone call from one of FFIC's vice presidents, Daryl Siry, who wanted to set up a meeting to discuss how his company would provide equipment and other resources for the department and other agencies in the metro area.

I was very skeptical about agreeing to hosting this vague planning meeting and the "too good to be true" opportunity caution lamp lit as Daryl described this event. In fact, Mr. Daryl had already set up a time and a date that he and his team would arrive at my office to review their plan. Very lucky for Atlanta Fire-Rescue that I was available and able to meet with the Heritage Team with little notice and little background information. Having met with dozens of sales folks, I was thinking that there had to be a "hook" of some type. Well, the FFIC Heritage Program was exactly what Daryl had described. The Atlanta metro area was awarded nearly $500,000 in various grants and Atlanta Fire-Rescue was the recipient of nearly a quarter of a million bucks, simply because we followed up on a request to meet.

When Follow-Up Slips

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