Stopbad: February 2016
By Gord Schreiner
Look at any great and successful organization and you will find behind it a great team. The fire service has always been good at developing solid teams (brotherhood) but we shouldn’t take this for granted.
By Gord Schreiner
Building and maintaining a team requires a lot of hard work and constant efforts.
Of course any team will have stronger performers and weaker performers. Team leaders need to understand the awesome power of their teams and figure out how to best use individual skills while accomplishing team goals. Team leaders must know how to lift up a member of the team while calming down another. Fire-service customers expect that when the team arrives members will know what to do and how to do it safely and effectively. Most would agree our No. 1 asset is the people in our fire departments regardless of their tenures.
I recently chatted with a young recruit from another fire department who was training at our centre. His training weekend had just ended and I asked him how it went. He said, “Well chief, the training was excellent but more importantly I was so surprised, amazed and inspired by how your firefighters here treated me. They treated me better than they do at my own station. I felt more welcomed in your station than I do in my own station where I have been for over a year. Nobody talked down to me and I felt respected.”
I was intrigued by these comments (although it is not the first time I have heard similar sentiments) and we chatted some more. He went on to say that at his station recruits are often patronized, excluded from participating in department functions, and don’t receive fire-department clothing. The recruits are not made to feel like a part of the team until their basic training is completed.
It made me sad to hear this. At our station we try to integrate our recruits into our team as quickly as possible; we give them clothing so they look as though they are on our team, and we treat them with the same respect we have for each other. We include recruits in almost everything we do, and even let them come with us on some runs as observers. We want recruits to be and feel like a part of our fire family. Further, we appoint an individual mentor to all new members to help them feel comfortable asking questions and to help them grow as firefighters. We challenge and support recruits right from day 1 by offering them a ton of training over and above the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 1001/2) firefighter training they receive at the Comox Fire Training Centre. Our department has even sent groups of recruits to conferences to see trade shows and listen to leaders in our industry. We give new members many of the same rights and privileges enjoyed by our regular firefighters.
Proper training is very important to us, but we also want our team members to be great citizens in our community and great members of our team. We want recruits to develop into nothing less than awesome firefighters. In my world, an awesome firefighter is not just well trained but also well balanced and possesses great personal values. Great firefighters must have a high level of commitment and dedication, and they must be nice. We ask recruits to assist us with our many public-education programs and events including our youth program and smoke-alarm program. We make all firefighters look and feel like an important part of our team right from their first day. We encourage all of our firefighters, new and old, to get involved in all that we do.
Are we doing it right or wrong? I would argue we are doing it right, and we have a department full of great new and old firefighters as proof. I make a point each week of checking in with all our people to see how they are doing. Is the department meeting their needs? Do they have any questions? I also try to ask a question or two about their families and the other parts of their lives. Teams work much better when members care about each other.
When a new person joins your team, you have an opportunity to set him or her on the right path for both team success and personal success. If a department can develop its newest members into great team players it stands to reason that it will have a great team. Do not forget to keep checking in with your existing team members to ensure they are doing well and their needs are being met.
Managing a fire department is all about managing people; if we get this right the rest will fall into place. Our team, while not perfect, is thriving and so are the individuals. We have a high turnover amongst our paid-on-call staff, but we embrace the challenge of recruiting and building new members.
Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. He is a structural protection specialist with the Office of the Fire Commissioner and worked at the 2010 Winter Olympics as a venue commander. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire