May 29, 2012, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - I remember a colleague tweeting recently, “If you don’t make decisions, chances are you will not get criticized. If you make decisions, you know you will get criticized. Make decisions!”
In the two months since becoming chief of Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES) I have learned this first hand, certainly more than when I was the deputy and just carried out the direction of our previous chief.
I have always believed that when you make a decision, you should do so with the best intentions by gathering the best information and standing by your choice. You must also be prepared to admit that the decision that you have made may not be correct. Prince Albert Fire Chief Les Karpluk, who sent that tweet, also says, “Authentic leaders don’t need to be right all the time. They take the time to do the right thing.” Sometimes doing the right thing means recognizing your shortcomings and growing professionally and personally because of them.
There have been a number of changes over the past month or so at RMES: new fire chief (just the second in our history), new rescue truck ordered, new ATV/trailer now operational, and the undertaking of one of the our biggest endeavors to date – department planning.
RMES has great trucks and equipment. I always said that if we can’t pay our firefighters the least we can do is make sure they have the best equipment to use while serving the community. I believe in supporting our members with this equipment and continuing to strive to have the best for the best. Not without faults, the department is now in a place where we can move beyond the equipment and really start to concentrate on the management end – it’s a big job, but our officers and firefighters are up to the challenge. Like all of your departments, ours is blessed with a talented bunch of volunteers who bring many different skills to the table. I would be foolish not to allow these skills to be brought into the fire station to help RMES grow.
RMES will move ahead with a more focused approach to the development of documents such as a management manual. This first tier will clarify what we, as a department, are actually prepared to do operationally. Serving a variety of purposes, this first step would include what services would be targeted if a budget cut were proposed in future.
A second tier of supporting documents will address personnel issues, operational best practices, safety management systems and training. A five-member committee made up of the fire chief, two officers and two firefighters will be charged with the development and implementation of personnel-related processes. These processes will revolve around the town’s own personnel policy as well as a new harassment policy and a social-media policy.
The firefighters were approached and asked to choose the two members to serve on the committee. The two chosen are a good example of the youth and experience on the department and everyone is anxious to begin meeting. Operational best practices will be an expansion and improvement of our current standard operating guidelines. Safety-management systems will guide the department through occupational health and safety requirements in the province as they relate to the town’s policy and the Alberta Code of Practice for Firefighters.
This RMES initiative is not new to fire services. Many villages, towns and cities have specific people to work on this for their entire communities and for all of their departments. Our department is showing that even without committed staff, smaller departments can move forward by looking within, and demonstrating how firefighters use their skills to improve the department. Check with your neighbors for help. Use your provincial associations and look toward the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. You cannot put a value on networking that you can accomplish by being members of various associations in your province, the country or continent.
Choosing to network through these groups may make a difference in your own department. Make a decision to join these associations next year if you cannot in 2012. You may be criticized for spending money on memberships instead of equipment, but the opportunities to gain valuable strategies from the network cannot be ignored. Besides, as my friend from Saskatchewan says, “Make decisions!”