I just got back from the 2003 edition of the Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, Maryland. As always, it was a tremendous experience. There were so many people to see and so many new ideas to assimilate.
As I sat down at my computer to begin work on this little session with you, I was torn in a number of directions. What should I discuss with you? What might be a lesson I learned during the past few days? I had many ideas running around in my head.
Should I write about some great moment that occurred during my career that taught me a lesson in how to share wisdom on interpersonal relationships? On the other hand, should I apply my talents to something technical that I saw or experienced at the Expo? Alternatively, should I share something with you from my career in the fire service? I had this same trouble a couple of summers ago. Then it came to me in a flash!
My choice this week was really simple. I need to write a word or two telling you folks that you should stop sitting on the sidelines and start jumping into the world of making decisions. I see a number of problems on the horizon for the fire service that will require critical decisions to be made. Sadly, the making of decisions is not everyone's cup of tea.
I am a long time veteran of the wars when it comes to making bad-decisions. The list of miscues in my life is long and ignoble. However, what is initially a mistake at one point in time can become a valuable source of experience for future use.
My wife has long told the world, or at least those who would listen, that I really have no business telling anyone about decisions. No way, not time and no how.
Perhaps she is right. It took me four tries before I decided to finally retire from the Newark Fire Department back in 1999. I guess that I am not a stellar maker of critical decisions.
The decision tree for that episode went something like this. Should I retire or should I stay on the fire department? Stay; go; don't stay, don't go. So it went for a number of months, during which time, people started to decide that good-old Chief Carter was never going to leave, and that he also had trouble making the big decisions. They even began to run pools when I announced I was retiring. One pool involved deciding whether I would leave or not which required choosing the date when I would pull my papers. Oddly enough the old fire director won that one.
To make a pathetically long story somewhat shorter, I did finally retire. In retrospect, the decision to leave was obvious, based upon a dispassionate review of the historical data. However, let me tell you that decisions like this are hardly dispassionate in the close and personal sense. Now for what I think is the critical part of this commentary.
How does anyone of us come to the point when they are deemed to be qualified to make decisions? That is a tough call. You first have to realize that any given decision is not just a single act or moment in time. It is a process, because making a single decision is not the important thing. The problem that stimulates us to make a decision is really the core of the decision.
Rare is the situation that occurs in a vacuum, devoid of any ties to the rest of your life. It has been my experience that you must first come to realize that any one small decision is usually linked to the next. This is the concept known as the decision chain. It is through the mechanism of these decision chains that you can form the basis for your success in any aspect of fire service operations.
It has been my good fortune to work with a real expert in the area of decision-making. My co-author for the text, Management in the Fire Service, 3rd Edition, is Mr. Erwin Rausch, a veteran of the private sector, and a long-time management consultant. He had a great deal of experience in the corporate world in setting up decision-making programs. In our text, we grouped these decision chains into three distinct groups: