Watch Your Attitude

Make sure you are doing something and not just being something

What matters more than the type of service (I am a firefighter) is the heart behind the service (I help people).

Our PBCFR 3rd Battalion Challenge Coin reminds us of "what we do."

Our PBCFR 3rd Battalion Challenge Coin reminds us of “what we do.”

A misplaced attitude works against the mission (save lives and protect property) and the safety of others.

Make sure you are doing something (serving) and not just being something (a firefighter).

How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge

How do you lead when you’re not in charge? If you believe that leadership is influence, as leadership guru John Maxwell teaches, then you don’t have to be in charge to lead. Leadership is needed at every level of the organization. For better insight on this, read Maxwell’s book, The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization.

Senior Jake Buddy Yarbrough

Some of the most influential people are not in positions of authority. Senior Jake Buddy Yarbrough

And think about this, almost always in any organization you’re not the top guy, gal, officer, or chief. Even if you are on top, you still have someone you report to, like city council members and the citizens in your community. So really, you always have others you are accountable to.

There’s almost no time when you don’t have a boss or someone to report to. So your position has very little to do with the influence that you exercise within your organization. Some of the most influential people I’ve known were not in positions of authority (we referred to Driver-Operator Buddy Yarbrough as “Senior Jake“). On the other hand, I can think of many who had the position of authority and they had no influence because they were just knuckleheads.

So, position and influence are two different things. Be like our Senior Jake Buddy Yarbrough, and just lead.

Who are the “Senior Jakes” in your organization?

We Want To Be Everywhere

Yes, as chief officers we want to be everywhere. We manage multiple fire stations and lead teams of firefighters and officers. We want to visit every station and listen to all of their stories, suggestions, and yes, criticisms. We want be at the fires, the bad motor vehicle accidents, and maybe even some of the medical calls. We want to get things done for them that will help them do their jobs. We want to help them grow. But we can’t be everywhere. Or can we?

LW Street Painting

Spending time with a team of firefighters at a local city event.

In essence, we need to remember our role and embed ourselves deeply into it with the intent of developing a local influence that translates throughout the entire organization. It means we impact smaller teams of firefighters and officers who will do even better things than we do. It means that we intentionally invest in a few at a time so that they can impact the many.

If we do this, we will actually be everywhere.

Question: How are you investing your time at your fire department?

Leadership: The Denver Fire Department Way

Denver Fire Department shares lessons learned about their LODDs and their commitment that focuses on personal safety, behavioral health, individual size up, and safety leadership. As Chief Tade says, “Leadership is the key element in firefighter safety.”

Review the 16 Life Safety Initiatives here.

In The Right Environment, We Can Do Remarkable Things

A deep sense of trust and cooperation builds relationships. Strong relationships make us feel safe inside our organizations. Great leaders want to build opportunity and confidence in their organizations. They want their members to feel safe. And when the  members feel safe, they will innovate and move forward. And the organization, and the people in it will grow.

I just finished listening to Simon Sinek’s latest book, Leaders Eat Last at audible.com. More on that later.

If You Want To Change The World…

United States Naval Admiral, William H. McRaven, delivers sound advice in his commencement speech to the University of Texas Class of 2014. Below are the quick notes on what to do. Listen to the speech to find out why and how to do it.

  • If you want to change the world, start by doing the little things right: make your bed.
  • If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
  • If you want to change the world, measure people by the size of their heart.
  • If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and move forward.
  • If you want change the world, don’t be afraid of the circus.
  • If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head first.
  • If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
  • If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest of moments.
  • If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
  • If you want to change the world, don’t ever ring the bell.

Also, read the workingfirechief’s blog for his thoughts on “Changing the fire service for the positive and keep good traditions alive.”

How will you help change the world?

It’s A People Game: More “From Buddy To Boss”

More snippets From Buddy to Boss: Effective Fire Service Leadership, by Chase Sargent.

The Organizational Foundation for Leadership

The fire service is a people game: Win people – win the game; lose people – lose the game. I am not talking about not holding members accountable for their actions or kissing anyone’s rear end. Instead I am suggesting that everything we do in the organization is with and about people. We live, eat, train, respond, and even die with people in our organization. In addition, we don’t make widgets; we serve people. Every action we take is intended to prepare for or actually deliver service to people who may be facing the worst days of their lives.

Why Senior Leaders Must Lead

Everything we do, from our first day on the job, to how we help maintain our station and equipment, to the day we become an officer is viewed and recorded by the people we work with. And they never forget. So leadership, really, should begin on day one!

Senior leadership must surround itself with educated, competent, and committed members who have the expertise necessary to fulfill the jobs at hand, so that delegation becomes a matter of trust and respect. There can be no more damming action than to ignore what others say on a continual basis and implement only one’s own ideas. If you surround yourself with knuckleheads, you are going to get knucklehead solutions, and you are going to wonder why, four or five years (or sooner) down the road, no one believes in you or will follow you.

The reality is, leaders must practice and show leadership, everywhere and all the time, and not just speak about it. People are always watching and they will judge your leadership activity (or inactivity), and they will remember it. They judge you on your success, not your words.

How do people (the customers you serve and the members you work with) see you every day?

Margin: Is There Room For Error?

What is margin and how does it impact operations in a complex and dynamic environment?

Watch this video from WildlandFire LLC to learn how margin looks to us in the field, and if we understand it, how we can use it to be safer and more effective.

We all have the power to control margin. What actions can you take to build margin?

Firefighter Critical Success Factors: How Do You Measure Up?

Performance-clean-standard-crop-1Observing Firefighter Performance: 3 critical factors contribute to firefighter excellence

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  -Aristotle

After many years of observing firefighters at my department during training operations and on the fireground, it’s apparent that some of them perform significantly better than others, especially during unforeseen, dangerous events. Firefighters at my department undergo similar initial training programs (recruit academy) and on-duty recurrent training. So what makes one firefighter perform better than another?

Statistics from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Crew Resource Management Program reveal that approximately 50 percent of all firefighter line-of-duty deaths are attributed to some type of firefighter or crew error. Therefore, the reasons behind excellent performance versus merely acceptable performance should be a serious concern for company officers and fire departments.

It’s easy to identify and report the mistakes that firefighters make during training sessions. After all, firefighters are human, and all humans make mistakes. But we can do better than merely relying on post-incident reports. We can observe the attitudes and performance of those firefighters who distinguish themselves during training and fireground operations. Demonstrated excellence in a training environment is no guarantee of excellence during a true emergency. However, firefighters who display excellence during training and normal fireground operations will most likely demonstrate similar behavior during an actual emergency.

Performance-2-Brian Bastinell 2003Critical Success Factors

Excellent firefighters share certain attributes and attitudes that are present at all times. In my observation, excellence boils down to the following three critical success factors:
1. An intimate knowledge of and a passion for the fire service profession;
2. A professional attitude that includes understanding the job’s dangers, practicing situational awareness and reacting conservatively to a challenging event; and
3. The acceptance and use of the department’s operational procedures.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the three.

Critical Success Factor No. 1:

An intimate knowledge of and a passion for the fire service profession. Highly successful firefighters take pride in knowing their profession, much more than the minimum required training. They spend time reading articles in professional trade magazines, talking about tools and techniques with other firefighters, critiquing their own incidents, attending conferences or classes and, most important, reviewing their department’s operational procedures. They are very familiar with the tools and equipment carried on their apparatus, and how best to use them. They accept, understand and practice the Incident Management System (IMS).

Excellent firefighters are knowledgeable about building construction and pre-fire plans. They know the different types of construction and how they affect safety and operational tactics on the fireground. They are students of the fire service and are always seeking more knowledge.

Because they are human, excellent firefighters still make mistakes. But their mistakes are fewer, less serious and more quickly discovered and corrected than those made by other firefighters.

How does an intimate knowledge of and a passion for the fire service influence the daily activities of an excellent firefighter? The answer is simple: Firefighters are constantly making life and death decisions. To make a decision, they must collect and analyze the current information and compare it with past experiences and lessons learned. The excellent firefighter draws on a wider range of information, which leads to better decisions. Lacking important information, especially the understanding of basic operational and safety procedures and techniques, can result in disaster. In the fire service, knowledge is not just power; it’s safety.

Critical Success Factor No. 2:

A professional attitude that includes understanding the job’s dangers, practicing situational awareness and reacting conservatively to challenging events. Professional firefighters know that the fire ground is dangerous and that conditions can change rapidly, without warning. They are not complacent. They are skeptical. They are alert and are always asking themselves, “What if…?” “What will we do if we cannot contain the fire to this room?” Excellent firefighters are prepared with a backup plan should the initial plan fail.

Because they are skeptical, these excellent firefighters will sense abnormalities sooner than their peers. They will anticipate, and thus avoid, potentially hazardous events. When unexpected events do occur, they will identify and handle them more effectively than other firefighters.

A constant situational awareness is one of the most important aspects of the critical success factors. Firefighters who exhibit constant situational awareness always know what their objective is, how much air they have and most important, where they are with regard to some reference point in the structure. Many case studies from tragic fireground incidents cite a loss of situational awareness.

A challenging event is anything that occurs on the fireground that could potentially affect safety. An equipment failure would be considered a challenging event, as would a change in the weather; either could compromise safety. In response to challenging events, excellent firefighters take actions to preserve or enhance the current level of safety. Examples include not entering a fire building if the conditions are deteriorating too rapidly, or revising strategies because of changing weather. The first goal of any fireground operation is firefighter safety; everything else comes second. The excellent firefighter is aggressively conservative.

Critical Success Factor No. 3:

The acceptance and use of the department’s operational procedures. All fire departments should have a complete set of operational procedures called standard operating procedures (SOPs) or standard operating guidelines (SOGs). Regardless of the name, operational procedures provide structure for fireground operations.

Some firefighters rely on operational procedures more than others; some take them for granted, and some ignore them completely. When asked why operational procedures are important, firefighters might reply, “So everyone will do things the same way.” But there’s much more to them than standardization.

Operational procedures provide firefighters with time-tested, consistent, safe methods of accomplishing many normal and abnormal tasks. They help firefighters avoid the surprises that might occur if there were no prescribed methods for handling the event.

Lastly, adherence to the department’s operational procedures help keep firefighters prepared and ready to react to unexpected events, which might include a low air bottle alarm, a lost firefighter, or an incident that escalates rapidly in size or complexity. These challenging events can be anticipated and practiced. Department operational procedures provide firefighters with a set process for dealing with such events, and excellent firefighters embrace their use.

Are You Observing?

The lesson learned by observing excellent firefighters is clear. The excellent firefighter has a passion for the profession, understands the dangers of the job, is aware of their surroundings, responds conservatively to challenging events and accepts and uses operational procedures.

How do your firefighters measure up against these critical success factors? Do they continually study their profession and practice the responsibilities of their position? Do they take seriously, the potential dangers that come with their job and prepare for them? And do they review, accept, and practice the department’s operational procedures in order to perform safely and effectively?

The three critical success factors can be a company officer’s checklist for safe and effective fireground operations, and a long and successful fire service career. So ask yourself honestly: If someone was observing you, would you rate as an excellent firefighter?

This was from an article written for Fire Rescue Magazine that was published in February 2007.