199% Correct Is Not A Passing Score In The Fire Service

Does the fire service do anything that requires a 200% proficiency level? By that I mean 100% correct 100% of the time.

Carolyn: "I don't want to hear any more about your belief in seatbelts. All that stuff you write about holding people accountable is bullshit. You're a hypocrite. You should have put my seat belt on me! Why didn't you put my seat belt on me?" Burt: (stunned and in a state of shock) "I'm afraid of you." Was the only answerer I could come up with at the moment. Carolyn knows bullshit and hypocrisy when she sees it. Talk about cold slap in the face. I know at a very deep level how Chief Woo must have felt when I sent him the article. I failed my own test with the person I love the most.

Test number 3:

Five days later I am picked up at the airport by Assistant Chief Steve Kimple, Division of Fire, City of Whitehall, Ohio. The following day I am teaching a class on Fire Service Organizational Effectiveness to a group of chief officers who are graduates of the Ohio Fire Executive program. Chief Kimple takes me to his fire station for lunch. The station gets a call for an auto crash. The engine officer asks if I want to ride along. "You bet" is my reply.

As I leave the kitchen I look back at Chief Kimple with a big smile on my face; he gets a big grin on his face. Steve had been in one of my lectures on seatbelts and my professed challenge to hold firefighters responsible. Steve hoped the crew does not let him down. Firefighter 1, 2, 3, 4 (see end note) and I respond. I am the only one wearing a seatbelt. I am being put to the test again. I fail. I blame the noise, siren, air horn - the crew all have headsets on so they could not hear me if I tried to talk to them. These guys did not read the tattletale article so it is not fair to hold them accountable. Unfortunately these are all just excuses, the truth - no courage.

We get to the scene and I watch the operations which is executed perfectly from scene safety and extrication, to patient care. The whole time I can her Carolyn's voice in my head. "Clark you're chicken shit - do the right thing - don't let me down - don't let your self down - don't let the fire service down."

Test number 4:

We get back in the engine. We all put our headsets on; I am the only one using the seatbelt. We drive off. This is do or die time for me. Put up or shut up. I say, " Do you guys have a policy that requires seatbelt to be used?" The replies are "Yes" "No" "It's not enforced." I say "Driver are you responsible for personnel to use their seatbelts when the vehicle moves?" The Driver replies, "Yes I am." He pulls over and stops. The Driver said: "He's right - everybody put your seat belt on." Everyone complies. I explain that the number two cause for LODD is vehicle crashes with a contributing factor of no seatbelt usage. I explain that there are no good reasons for not wearing seatbelts. I ask them to promise to use their seatbelts from now on, some say OK. I passed this test.

When we get back to the station I give the guys a copy of the tattletale article. I explain to Chief Kimple that I didn't have the courage to make the crew put their seatbelt on going on the call but I was successful on the return. Steve said, " Was that the first time you rode out since the article was published?" "Yes" I say. Steve: "Was that the first time you made a crew use their seatbelts?" I say, "Yes." Steve's reply shows great wisdom, "The next time you do it will be easer for you." The more we practice doing the right thing - the easer doing the right thing becomes.

The next day in class Al, Steve, and I present the four test examples as a case study on organizational effectiveness. Steve adds a page by telling us that one of the members of the engine crew came to him later in the day and apologized for the incorrect behavior. The chiefs in the class admitted that they do not have a 200% proficiency level on seatbelt usage. They all agree we can and must do better. But the most discouraging agreement among them was that they did not think that 100% compliance 100% of the time with seatbelt usage is achievable.

If the fire service cannot get the little things right how can we ever expect to get the big things right. This is at the core of organizational effectiveness. Can any fire department be effective if they do not comply with the seatbelt rule, or alcohol rule, or ICS rule, or sexual harassment rule? As a life and death vocation, each of us does not get to pick and choose what rules we follow and which ones we ignore because there are dire consequences. When you read the NIOSH LODD reports, in every case the victim and or others were not following there own SOP's and or fire service doctrine.