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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The reality of failing to follow up on a specific issue may have net results from "no harm, no foul" to total public trust breakdown. There are stories of failing to follow up on issues that are of epic proportion. When you make a commitment inside or outside your organization, there is always someone that is expecting you to perform the obligation on time and accurately. No excuses are acceptable and to regain the trust lost is difficult at best.

The District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has a very aggressive smoke/carbon monoxide detector installation program. As fire chief, some of the worst news I can get is that we committed to installing a detector and failed to do so in the timeline agreed to with our customer. Concerns like liability, public trust and agency integrity all come into question when we failed to meet our obligation. The senior officers who oversee this program are regularly reminded of the importance and consequence of failing to meet the agreed schedule. Further, I conduct spot checks on our "Smoke Detector" hotline at least monthly. Finally, I attend many community and civic club meetings to sample the work effort first hand. You sure can learn a lot by just asking a few questions and listening to the answers.

Summary

In closing, consider using some type of structured tracking system to follow up on your projects. There is a project-management software package built into the Microsoft Outlook program. I am sure that there are dozens of other ones on the shelf at most computer stores as well as in-house developed systems and even paper forms. Our project-management tracking system helps us to guide the agendas of many meetings as well. The idea is that you have some way of tracking and accounting for everything that you have agreed to do either inside or outside your agency.

I am certain that most fire-EMS departments have large collections of checklists that allows for effective follow up at alarms of all types. If you need ideas with various incident checklists, please let us know to have our package e-mailed to you (e-mail us at william.hayes@dc.gov). The checklist will be discussed again in a future column that discusses consistent performance in a future edition of the magazine.

The key to any such system (electronic or paper) is to use it routinely and make the report available to as many folks inside the department as possible. And, of course, the person or group responsible for completing a task or project must have the access to the tracking form/system for it to be effective. The closing thought is an anonymous quote and that is, "Follow-up is the Breakfast of Champions."

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 author of the book Rube's Rules for Survival.