A missed opportunity on the fire ground can lead to injuries and fatalities.
If you have been following this series of articles, we have been discussing the journey to fire service leadership. In this segment, we will discuss missed opportunities: Those things we wish we had done or had done differently.
We probably all have had a situation where when we learn of a friend's passing we would say something like, "I wish I had told them how I felt" or "I wish I had gone to see them more."
The point is that we have now missed that opportunity. The moment is gone. As much as we may regret it, we can't change it. If we take a moment to think about it, we may be able to avoid the pitfalls of these missed opportunities by being more attentive to others.
We can compare this to the fire service as well. We sit back after the fire has gone out and say, "I wish I had done this different or that different," for us this is a critique. We can wish we had done something different, but the fact is we didn't. What we did was what we did, and we have to live with it. We have missed the opportunity.
When we miss that opportunity we may never get a second chance. If someone has been injured or killed because of your actions, we may never get the opportunity to tell them how we feel. Telling the family we are sorry may be of little comfort. Any regrets we will have to live with. This is a cold, hard truth. Every missed opportunity is not that dramatic, but it does make the point of how our actions as leaders affect others.
There are no "do-overs" in the fire service; our "do-over" is the next alarm. That is when we can learn for our mistakes and apply our experience to the next situation. Woulda, coulda and shoulda should never enter into this discussion. If you coulda done something different, then you shoulda.
Then what woulda been different? These words come from failures. This is how you second-guess yourself. Firefighters and fire officers must be prepared for this. We can't fail. People's lives depend on our quick and proper actions. The time to learn is now. Don't let the opportunity pass you by. Leaders must limit the number of missed opportunities. Make every alarm a learning experience, for yourself as well as people you supervise. Their skills are a reflection of your instruction.
If you have never cut a roof at a fire as a firefighter and now you are an officer, you have missed that opportunity.
How critical that becomes depend on where you are assigned. Everything done by your subordinates, that you never did before you became their superior, is also a missed opportunity. Now we all can't do everything. But, as a leader, we must be familiar enough with the process to be able to speak on it with authority. That comes from experience.
Some leaders may have never worked in a truck company before they were promoted. They may have missed the opportunity to force a door but, their time in the engine may have given them years of experience in nozzle techniques or pump operation. This experience becomes their strength and forcible entry is a weakness.
Some would say that I don't need to know how to do everything. I am the leader and it's not my job,. My job is to get them to do it. That may be true but, let me give you an example. I don't need to know how to operate the pumps on the rig because that is the driver's job.
But what happens when the driver calls you on the radio and tells you he can't get the rig into pump or tells you he is drawing a vacuum? If you have never been a pump operator or at least trained in the pump operations you would not know what to do or how critical a problem either event may be. Now, how does it look for the leader when he has a blank look on his face when the guys ask him what to do?
If the firefighters are having trouble forcing the door, how can you tell if they are doing it right when you have never done it. That is when those missed opportunities will rear their ugly head.