Many times have my columns here touched the topic of problem-solving. However, these discussions normally covered the topic at the organizational level. However this time around I have crafted this column in a different way. I am going to discuss problem solving at the personal, company or unit level, in situations where you have neither the luxury of time, distance, nor distance to shield you from the impact of your problem-solving decisions.
In the work-a-day world of your fire department, you will normally be interacting continually with the small group of folks with whom you are assigned on a permanent basis. In the career world small unit leaders are normally dealing with the same folks on their shift over given period of time.
You will become familiar with these folks and this familiarity can assist you in becoming accustomed to with each person and assessing their individual role in the success (or failure) of your unit. This day-to-day knowledge can assist you in monitoring people so that you may be able to head off problems before them grow to a disruptive level.
Volunteer fire departments present a somewhat different challenge. Given the nature of your response patterns, you never really know who will end up riding officer's seat. In addition, you can never really forecast who will be riding in the right front seat (or officer's position) on your department's firefighting units. This means that you are going to have to learn more about the people in your organization, so that you can assess the people with whom you end up serving.
This is not so great a problem in fire departments which operate from a single station. And if you think about it, even in those situations where there are two or more stations, the problems you face will be problems created by members of the units which are responding from your station. It is not common for members from one station to respond and ride in the officer's position for units assigned to another station. While this can happen, the chances of that occurring are not all that great.
Let me suggest to you that the need exists for you to be continually scanning and monitoring the environment in your station or among the members of your group. You need to be able to assess the attitudes and motivation of your folks on a continuing basis. Let me also suggest that your environmental scan take the occasional look out at the world around you, for nothing you and your folks do occurs in a vacuum, devoid of the influence of the outside world. If you are diligent in performing this task I will suggest that you will be better able to see the storm clouds of trouble as they begin to develop out there on the horizon.
Even at those times when you have a hunch that something may be wrong it could take you some time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. However, once you make your decision that something is amiss, it is then time to begin the process of solving the problem you have identified. Let me share an important piece of information with you here. I suggest that should you ignore it you do so at your own peril. Regardless of the number of people living within your fire station world, the process of problem-solving is the same as it is for situations on the major level. Whether there are two people or twelve people, you must still use the same process.
Your first step is to actually define the actual problem. Be sure that what you are looking at is the actual problem and not a symptom of the problem. Be sure that you are treating the pinched nerve that is causing the headache and not just taking aspirin for the symptoms.
Perhaps the attitude among your team members suddenly takes a turn of the cold shoulder variety. Let us say, for example, that your normally tight-knit group suddenly finds itself shunning one member of the team, excluding them from the coffee table conversations and generally doing what they can to stay away from them. This is not out of the question. I have seen it happen.