My friends, it has been my good fortune to have been an active member of the fire service for a long time now. I have seen a lot and done a great deal. One thing is for sure, there will always be a future. And that future will happen whether you are ready for it or not. It is, therefore, critical to develop and maintain an effective fire department organization capable of riding that roller-coaster we call change.
This will not be an easy task during the coming decade of change, as we work through the second decade of the 21st Century. The pressures have been great and the temptations falter many. But there has never been an alternative to success. You must soldier on if there is to be a viable fire service in the future.
A successful fire department is one which meets the needs of its community, both actual and perceived. But you would be surprised at how many fire departments fail to satisfy their primary customer – the taxpayer. It is the taxpayer who foots the bill for the lavish equipment and property we get to use.
I may be preaching to the choir (and I might not), but we in the fire service must work to evolve into a customer-oriented agency, with quality service as a priority. In order to do this, your fire department must become responsive to the community, seeking input and support to guide departmental decision makers.
Let us turn our attention to that place where we spend the bulk of our time: the fire department itself. There are a number of ways in which fire people continually foul up their co-workers and their departments. We must understand these mistakes and overcome them by diligent effort and an honest concern for people as individuals.
- Failing to accept responsibility
- Failing to properly develop people
- Trying to control results, rather than simulating thinking
- Being a buddy rather than a fire officer
- Failing to set standards (a long car trip with no map)
- Failing to train people to do their job
- Tolerating incompetence
Who would be so stupid as to make mistakes like these you might ask? Common sense would tell us that…and then the argument starts to trail off. There is nothing common about common sense. One of the most overrated and least available traits in the world today is common sense. Those things I have listed above were mistakes a thousand years ago. They were mistakes during World War II. And they remain critical mistakes today. And since today is only one step away from that tomorrow we were just talking about, we had best start working to overcome these critical errors right now.
Think of the changes you and I have witnessed over the last forty years. Reflect on those devices that we now use that were not available to the fire service at the turn-of-the-century. Think about how things have changed.
Now we can:
- Use social media to tell our story (ours and the department’s)
- Scan a document and email it as a file attachment
- Receive a pre-fire plan through a mobile computer in your command vehicle (or in your first due pumper)
- Store our information in a cloud
- You can conduct incident command over your I-Phone
- Do word processing and date searches on the fire ground, at a motor vehicle accident, at a haz-mat incident (or any just about where)
- Send and receive electronic mail (on computers, phones, tablets)
- Use cellular phones to manage our world
- Use on-line training programs to stretch your precious instructional time
But there is one critical element which has not changed. As we said last month, when Harry Truman was President, he had a saying on his desk that said, the buck stops here.” Each of us has to make a similar decision that the buck of responsibility for a better fire department stops at our desk.
It is critical to our success as leaders in the fire service that we take the blame for our actions. We must demand the same of the people we work with. A major problem in America today is the failure to hold people responsible for their actions. Whether it is the murderer who had a sad childhood, or the rapist who hated his mother; we keep looking for excuses.