Problem Solving Up Close and Personal

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...


Then there is the half-hearted approach to company drills, inspection duties, and maybe even response to fire or EMS calls. As the small-group leader, it is up to you to pitch in and find out what's going on. Let me assure you of one critical fact of life. If you choose to ignore a problem it will not go away. I can almost promise you that it will get worse.

In any situation such as this you must to begin collecting information which can help you in getting to the root cause of the problem. Until you do this, you will not be able to develop any sort of solution to the problem at hand. This is truly the first part of preparing your case for solving problems of any kind. You have to get the facts and identify the problem.

Something which seems to happen more often than I would like to see involves people trying to fit solutions to the symptoms of the problem rather than addressing the problem.  Let me offer an example of what I mean. Suppose that your unit has had a number of occasions where it took a little too long to get out. Or how about if you continually face situations where you leave the station without having confirmed the address to which you are responding. 

In this case the symptoms involve being beaten into your assignments by other units which are more distant. Or worse yet, you call on location at a place which is not the true location, but it is where you thought you were going. Is this an internal problem or an external problem? Regardless of which of these it is, when you are riding the right-front seat my friend, it is your problem. 

During your initial investigation you must speak with every member of your company. Let me suggest that you first speak to each person privately and get their take on the problem which you have identified. Ask simple questions in a non-threatening manner, take notes, and assemble your data.

You should ask questions about whether each person heard the dispatch message and their perception of what they believe they heard. Then ask them questions about their familiarity with your response district. It might be that people are not paying enough attention to the dispatch message or that they are not familiar with the street network in your area. Either can lead to the response problems which you identified. 

Are there problems in perceiving the dispatch message? Your investigation must find an answer to that question. Are they taking too much time do don their protective equipment, board the apparatus and then leave the station? Is the problem the lateness of your unit in arriving on location or is it possible that the people on your team have not fully learned (or been required by you to learn) the streets in their district? Remember, if you did not teach them or monitor their learning process then it is your fault. It could be that you investigation lays the blame at your feet. If so, stand-up, take the blame for the situation and then work to correct the problem. 

I can think of one fire department which had this problem, but on a somewhat larger scale. The problem started on the small scale when it was noted that there was an uneven response to department calls among the volunteer personnel. Many times the person riding the right-front seat had to roll out the front door with less than a full compliment of troops. This led to problems for the right-front-seat leader when they were called upon to perform more tasks than they had to crew to deliver. This led to some really challenging operational alterations, but there troops in the right-front seat got the job done.

As the investigation into the facts of the situation went forward, the evidence began to mount up that the messages being sent through the paging system were coming across garbled. In some cases people were not alerted because their pagers were not activated by the dispatch signal. In other cases, people thought they were hearing one address when in fact it was another. Or in the more extreme cases, the message was completely garbled and unreadable. Responses were being delayed and members of the department, including the chief, were not being alerted to the department's responses.