Rule 3: Flawlessly Execute The Basics of Your Job

In this third installment of the "Rube's Rules" series, we will discuss ensuring that the job at hand is completed safely, efficiently and effectively. I love the notion of great customer service in the ways in which we fight fires and save lives. This concept was pioneered roughly 20 years ago by Chief Alan Brunacini; this topic will be covered in a Rube's Rule later in this series. However, the fact of the matter is that we must resolve the emergency at hand quickly and professionally; no ifs, ands or buts accepted.

Before the incident commander can call in to the communications center to get the customer service ball rolling, he or she must get the incident under control. I feel obligated to make sure that my opening statement is crystal clear to all. If the fire is still moving and out of control, but the operational focus is to worry about the Red Cross being dispatched to the emergency location to temporarily house "Mrs. Smith," the plan is falling apart and out of balance. Obviously, Chief Lloyd Layman's "Big Seven" structural firefighting strategies must be satisfied or at least well underway before related support activities can be implemented.

In order to perform our sworn fire and emergency medical duties, we must be capable of doing the work at hand correctly every time. At a minimum, firefighter/EMTs must be certified to the basic national standards. When I speak of efficiency, one old axiom comes to mind that is a great example: "Extinguish the fire and it will be contained (most of the time) quickly." Of course, you cannot always apply this thought process, but based on the situation, time, fuel configuration, building construction and the like, there are times when it does hold true. Nothing can ever replace having the correct skills, knowledge and abilities to handle an emergency regardless whether it is a multi-systems trauma or a second-alarm apartment fire.

Being a big fan of the U.S. military, and in particular the U.S. Marine Corps, I have used a particular phrase to discuss the importance of core values. The slogan is, "Once a Marine, always a rifleman." The point is to focus attention on the core mission of the Marine Corps to protect our nation from foreign and domestic enemies by being an excellent infantryman. As you can tell, this is a very important statement and speaks volumes about being able to flawlessly execute the basics of one's job. In the Marine Corps, whether you are a four-star general or a newly appointed private, you are first and foremost a rifleman. The comparison is that if you are going to claim to be a firefighter (regardless of your affiliation — volunteer or career), you must maintain the basic training requirements and certifications to do your job (i.e., EMT, Firefighter 1, Firefighter 2).

During a presentation on leadership, a PowerPoint slide appeared bearing that Marine Corps phrase. A chief officer raised his hand to comment. He came to his feet (a little unusual for a fire-rescue leadership class) and went on to tell an interesting personal story. The chief was a "ring knocker" (graduate) from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. He had done very well in his studies, graduated with honors and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. The first official act of the new "butter bar" lieutenant was to request a transfer of his commission to the U.S. Marine Corps. After a few weeks of waiting and a few other administrative steps, he was accepted into the Corps. His first assignment was to be shipped to Parris Island, SC, to learn to be a rifleman, followed by the standard Officer Candidate School; no shortcuts and a good measure of respect for the core value of being a rifleman. This mission-critical phrase was reinforced that day and continues to keep me focused on just how important it is to "flawlessly execute the basics of your job."

The measurement for all of our credentials (EMS, fire, rescue, hazardous materials and the like) should be the same as our emergency medical certifications. I have had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of several fire-EMS departments in different states over the past few decades. With each opportunity (new department), I was the final authority to determine whether my fire-related certifications were acceptable. The state health department (or the equivalent) would review my EMS records and prescribe what training and updated certifications I would need to be a member of the new outfit. Whether it was a required CPR recertification course or a complete NREMT course and testing, it was clear what I had to do to be qualified/certified in the new community. As you can tell, I am very much in favor of national certifications for all of our core disciplines, using the various certification agencies.

The final logical point is to briefly discuss improving your various certifications and capabilities. That is raising the bar as the leader (be it the formal or informal leader) to make sure that you and your department grow and keep up with the changing times. I can remember that in 1971, Private D.L. Rubin was required to successfully complete the American Red Cross Advanced First Aid Course as part of a nine-week firefighter recruit school. This training was great for the times, but within that same year it was determined to be outdated and not comprehensive enough for ambulance service. Our department adapted to and required emergency medical technician certification as the baseline and included paramedic training. We have never looked back!

Can you imagine never obtaining current information? This could never happen in the medical world, so I am asking you to make the same commitment in all phases of your career. The National Fire Academy offers one of the best leadership development processes with the Executive Fire Officer program. This four-year training curriculum touches on all types of strategies to improve your effectiveness as a leader. You should consider obtaining the Institute of Public Safety Excellence's Chief Fire Officer designation and Chief Medical Officer designation. These designations are a specific and measurable way to determine whether you are operating at the top of your game and to keep your skills, knowledge and abilities up to national standards.

There is no more important function for a firefighter/EMT than to be able to flawlessly perform his or her job when the chips are down. The lives of all first responders and the lives of those in the community that they are sworn to serve are literally on the line every time an emergency vehicle goes out the door. Until next time, be safe out there!

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.