Fireball!: Part 1 - Does Your Fire Department Post More Wins, Losses or Ties?

Richard A. Mueller reviews how the fire service should continually measure the quality of performance, identifying what works, what doesn't, who is contributing and who is not - like a winning team. "No runs, no hits and no errors." I heard this phrase at...


Richard A. Mueller reviews how the fire service should continually measure the quality of performance, identifying what works, what doesn't, who is contributing and who is not - like a winning team. "No runs, no hits and no errors." I heard this phrase at shift change from one firefighter who...


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Richard A. Mueller reviews how the fire service should continually measure the quality of performance, identifying what works, what doesn't, who is contributing and who is not - like a winning team.

"No runs, no hits and no errors." I heard this phrase at shift change from one firefighter who was being relieved by another. The firehouse context of the phrase was that there was no information to pass along because the member's company did not respond to any alarms or deliver any service during its shift.

The phrase "No runs, no hits and no errors" comes from baseball, a sport that has been called "a game of statistics." Runs, hits and errors are measurements of the performance and quality of the team members that is often heard at baseballs' "shift change," called an inning. Runs, hits and errors represent a synopsis of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the performance of the team.

These and other statistics tell the story of why one team won and the other team lost the game. More often than not, the team with the most hits and the fewest errors will be the team that scores the most runs to win the game. In professional sports, the win-and-loss record is arguably the most important performance and quality indicator of each team's success. Teams with the highest win totals are regarded as winners while the ones with more losses are considered losing teams.

Winning teams generate a lot of attention from the media, their fans and even other teams. Other teams study them to try to find out their secret or secrets so that they may be the winning teams in the future. Although I am not a sports fanatic, I am fascinated by the dynamics of winning teams. My reading of sports teams and of other winning teams has not revealed any secret formulas or magic that produced these winning teams' success. While occasionally a winning team will have a star athlete who contributes more than their fair share and maybe even score the winning run occasionally, the stars never win games by themselves.

What I have read, seen and learned about winning teams is that individual team members do a better job of playing together like a team than the other teams. Their attitudes, behaviors and commitment demonstrate higher levels of teamwork that produces more wins than the other teams. You might even say that they want to win more than they want to lose and they prove it. Together, they find a way to win.

Many references have been written comparing firefighting and fire departments to sports teams. Our teams, however, differ from sports teams in some critical ways. A closer look at these differences may tell the secret of why some of us are more successful than others.

What Defines Success?

Sports teams share the common goal of winning games. Sports teams compete against other teams in an effort to win games. The fire service, on the other hand, does not share this common goal. Rather than competing against the fire and time, fire companies often actively compete against each other. This can occur while responding to and when operating on emergency scenes. While competition in itself can help to foster effective teamwork, when one team's victory is another team's loss, it hurts the organization, its members and sometimes our customers. Two fire apparatus colliding at a controlled intersection or a fire company assigning itself to the fire floor when command assigned it somewhere else are examples of competition taken to an unreasonable/unsafe level.

Anyone who has played baseball knows who won the game at the conclusion of the 9th inning because they keep score. They keep track of the runs and whoever accumulates the most by the end of the game wins. But what defines a fire service win? The point of this baseball analogy is that baseball and other teams measure the quality of their performances. They identify what works, what doesn't, who is contributing and who is not. Winning teams know why they won. Baseball teams track a variety of quantitative information, some of which include the number of home runs, hits, runs batted in, on base percentage, batting average (against both right- and left-handed pitchers) and, yes, even the number of errors in a game. The fire service does not track its runs, hits or errors, much less our wins, losses or ties.

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