The Best Way To Lead On The Fireground

Put skill, will, and teamwork together

FFwindowwalkThe best fireground teams have high skill, high will, and high teamwork. Have you ever been in a firehouse where everyone believed that each team member was highly trained, and that all knew their purpose and what they had to do? It’s the finest kind of team to be in. Some teams in the fire service are like this today. I’ve been on a few myself. All of them can be. Once there, this kind of team needs only four things:

  1. Mission-type orders with clear objectives and support.
  2. General supervision to provide current information and coordinated action.
  3. Trust.
  4. … and a fireground where they can go to work!

Can We Do It Better?

This question always lingers, “Can we do it better?” What does it take? How do we get everyone involved and make it stick? How do we build a culture that wants to do it better?

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We live in different and dangerous times today. Our incidents are getting crazier and more complex. We’re challenged by mysterious bio-hazards, unprecedented natural disasters, and unexpected terrorism that can happen anywhere. Our communities are becoming more diverse and they need our help with risk reduction and education.

To face these ever-changing and complex challenges, we must continue to do it better. There are a lot of people counting on us, so we have to be ready for anything, at anytime, and anywhere.

Here are a few suggestions on how we can do it better:

Train and Work Safer

Train, respond, and work safely. Wear your seat belts and your SCBA. Stop breathing so much smoke. Follow your policies and procedures and execute them safely. Stay aware of everything, and watch over your brothers and sisters; have their backs. Speak up when you need to, in the right way. Maintain the readiness of your equipment, and use it properly and when you’re supposed to. Practice personal accountability, all the time. And, know where you are at all times.

Practice and Master Your Skills

Whether operating a saw or starting an IV line, don’t just settle for proficiency; be a master at what you do. Stay physically fit, because your work involves great physical exertion. Keep learning about everything. Know why and how we do things, not just what to do. Be disciplined and use the incident command system. Constantly train for readiness and improvement. Always look back at what you did and ask, “How can I do it better next time?”

Act Like a Professional with Honor and Integrity

Be courageous, but calm. Be patient, because it can be difficult dealing with people who are in a considerable state of stress. Sometimes they are the people you work with. Practice a positive image, everywhere and all the time. Set a good example for the young people in your community. Get involved in your fire department and your community, and provide ideas to make the job safer and the community better.

Treat Others Better and Practice Servant Leadership

Be nice to everyone you encounter, especially the people you work with. Practice compassion and consideration for everyone. Engage the people in your community, including the leaders, staff, and citizens. Get to know them and what they need. Improve relationships with other agencies, especially law enforcement; we need to have their backs. Be a servant to others, because that’s the true calling of the fire service.

It’s not a matter of can we do it better, we have to do it better. Start this discussion in your fire department. Ask that lingering question, “Can we do it better?” And if each of us keeps calm and makes a real effort, we will do it better.

How Speaking Up Builds a Better Organization

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Firefighters are very quick to recognize problems in their organization. This daily size up conversation is heard at every fire station and in every office at headquarters. But speaking up, actually bringing the issue to the attention of the organization, doesn’t happen often. At least not in the right way. Why? Because members fear that contradicting the status quo will damage their reputations or position. Or worse, they just like to talk, but have little desire to act.

Effectively communicating through the confusing maze of hierarchies in fire departments is difficult. This obstacle course wears down everyone. That wariness is costly, because feedback from the front lines is vital for improving operational practices and safety measures. With that in mind, speaking up and teaming up builds a better, more healthy organization.

Researchers have studied communication within a variety of organizations that operate in dangerous and complex environments. They interviewed and assessed teams across several measures, including professional status (the hierarchy of each team), psychological safety (the extent to which team members felt comfortable speaking up about work-related issues), and leader inclusiveness (the extend to which leaders welcomed and incorporated feedback from their members).

This research has shown that while hierarchy structures were similar across all teams, the level of psychological safety varied dramatically from one team to another – and was directly proportional to the level of leader inclusiveness. How status is handled within those hierarchies is what makes the difference.

Inclusive leaders exhibit three characteristics that lower the fear of speaking up among their members:
  1. they are accessible
  2. they proactively invite input
  3. and, they acknowledge their own fallibility
Small enabling messages from leaders, what they say and what they do, make all the difference in complex organizations like the fire service. Sometimes, for the better of the organization, you just have to have a difficult conversation.

Is your organization open to members speaking up? Are you comfortable with speaking up within your team or organization?

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?

What’s Working? What’s Not?

Photo by Kim Fitzsimmons

Photo by Kim Fitzsimmons

Start, Stop, Continue is a well-known method for feedback that many organizations and teams use to gauge effectiveness. You simply ask:

  • What can we start doing that will make us more effective?
  • What can we stop doing that makes us less effective?
  • What can we continue to do that’s providing value to us?

Another, less formal feedback technique that is similar is called WWWN. It stands for What’s working? What’s not? It’s a simple, effective communication tool that can illuminate critical issues or operations for improvement while creating a learning culture of openness.

Give them a try. Which one works better for you?

Can Your Administration Team Hit The Target?

Photo by Kim Fitzsimmons

Photo by Kim Fitzsimmons

Are you building your fire department administration strategically? How do you find and position the cornerstone members who will ignite interest, introduce new ideas and development, and achieve a dynamically talented team? Can they hit the target?

Your fire department’s administrative team is just as important, if not more, as your engine companies or special operations team. All must be able to work together. If you don’t believe your administration team provides your fire department with an effective approach, you should take some action. Adding new talent, educating current members, and continuously engaging the team in robust discussions on strategy are all key elements of a fire department’s success.

It’s all about achieving the right mix. When administration teams bring diverse skills, specializations, knowledge and experience to the table, and when they have honest, open communication about current operations and future strategies, many new ideas emerge and important projects get accomplished. Your team hits the target!

How is your administration team designed? Does it have the right mix of talent and personality to introduce new approaches and realize effective results?

Getting Your People to Change Starts With You

Old_firefightersGetting your people to change starts with you.

Actions speak louder than words, and we hear it all the time, “It’s hard to change people with deeply embedded traditional behaviors!”

To be innovative and keep up with the rapidly changing complexities in our world, WE must be willing to change our behaviors and beliefs. And leaders must go first and set the pace and ideal behaviors for the rest of the organization. 

Here’s a way WE can begin to change:

  • WE need to be brutally honest about the behaviors that we must change.
  • WE must be willing to move away from what we all know as the business of yesterday.
  • WE have to build speed through trust. As trust goes up, work and time to results go down.

How do you get yourself motivated to make the change in the first place? When should you take massive action verses practicing incremental change?