The Fire Service Pyramid of Success: Part 4

Mark Emery continues this series with part four discussing the heart of the pyramid: condition, skill and team spirit.Part 4 -- Heart of the Pyramid: Condition, Skill and Team Spirit 


Mark Emery continues this series with part four discussing the heart of the pyramid: condition, skill and team spirit. Part 4 -- Heart of the Pyramid: Condition, Skill and Team Spirit   Coach Wooden's All-Time Best Starting Five Industriousness Enthusiasm Condition Fundamentals...


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Coach Wooden told his players that team condition depended on two factors: 1, how hard they worked during practice; and, 2, how well they behaved between practice sessions -- when nobody was watching. (Recall that 95% of his players graduated with a degree.) Both factors became evident during games, especially during the many games that were won late in the fourth quarter. Many of UCLA's games and championships were won because of mental, moral and emotional conditioning -- not because the players were better athletes. Coach Wooden was too smart to build UCLA's success on mere talent and physical conditioning. Many teams with more talent and size and better conditioning were defeated because they lost their cool. Coach Wooden's teams did not panic or lose their cool.

Coach Wooden's teams had steadfast poise and confidence because each player was recruited and nurtured according to Pyramid of Success principles. If a high school prospect was blessed with NBA-level physical talent, but exhibited behavioral red flags (uncooperative, disloyal, lazy, unfriendly, lacking self-control), he was not pursued by Wooden.

Wooden had each of his players for just four or five years; you could have each of your fire station "players" for 20 or 30 years. Imagine what kind of fire department you would have if you recruited according to the five blocks of the Pyramid foundation? Is this individual Industrious? Enthusiastic? Loyal? Friendly? Cooperative? If you're a volunteer organization, a Pyramid-based culture could help with retention -- who wouldn't like to be part of a special, dynamic and elite culture? You already have the marketing advantage that the fire service is admired and respected by the community. A basketball team is not an essential service; your fire department is an essential service. Without mental, emotional and moral conditioning, the most talented and physically fit firefighter in your department is susceptible to losing his or her cool under pressure. Conditioning (and success) is built upon execution of basic fundamentals and the first two levels of the Fire Station Pyramid of Success.

To the right of condition is skill. Skill is positioned smack-dab in the middle of the entire Pyramid for a reason: To be a successful leader, you must be competent and you must make sure that your crew is competent. Skill means fundamental competency -- "the basics." Skill is the ability of you and your crew to execute the fundamentals quickly and efficiently. This level of skill is known as unconscious competence. Skill serves as the heart of the Fire Station Pyramid.

Response fundamentals include driving, fastening seatbelts, acquiring a water supply, apparatus positioning, and pump and aerial operation. Tactical fundamentals include operating tools and equipment, vehicle extrication, ventilation, ladders, hose handling, forcible entry, primary search, salvage, overhaul, patient exam, splinting, bandaging and defibrillation. Strategic fundamentals include size-up, determination of value, action planning, incident management, implementation of the incident command system, risk management, span of control, team integrity -- and more.

There are fire station fundamentals as well. These include maintenance of apparatus, tools and equipment. Although not glamorous or exciting, fire station housekeeping is a fundamental skill. Other fundamentals include pre-incident planning, company inspections -- and fostering professional conduct and appearance. Do firefighters look like they are minimum-wage laborers or do they look like professionals? What do their helmets and personal protective equipment (PPE) look like? Does a firefighter's dirty, melted helmet imply that the fire department ensures that offensive fireground operations are coordinated? What if the helmet was melted during training? Does a surgeon need to advertise experience by strutting the halls of a hospital wearing bloody scrubs? ("Hey, look at me everybody, I did surgery!") Would bloody, contaminated scrubs be an indication that the surgeon has achieved and is modeling the first two levels of the Pyramid? What does modeling dirty, contaminated PPE imply?

How a fire station answers the telephone will provide insight into the professional conduct culture of your fire station. If the fire station phone is answered with an abrupt "Hello" or "10's" (ten what?), then it is likely the absence of professional leadership within that fire station has fostered a culture akin to teenagers rebelling against parents. When the guys working at the tire store down the street answer their phone with more fundamental professional conduct than your firefighters, you've got a fire station leadership problem.