By Dave Balding
Our department, like many, has a firefighter association attached to it which supports the department, its members and is a presence in the community. I join their meetings in an ex officio capacity and am fortunate to provide updates, occasionally with views, perspectives and encouragements in the “Chief’s Chat.” My recent offering was around how the overall operation of a fire department is much like our individual emergency responses.
By Dave Balding
On the surface they’re both similar and rudimentary. Members attend training on their designated shifts, much like participating in an emergency response. We show up, make a difference by doing good work and return to the station.
Scratch a little deeper and it’s clear there is much more to the issue. Sure, at a fire scene it’s all about getting the wet stuff on the red, but we do way more than that. There are so many elements in an emergency response that blend to render a successful outcome. From the time we are dispatched, myriad skills are required and engaged. Concise communications, situational awareness, after-incident briefings are only a few – that’s without mentioning the endless hard skills required. Our performance in emergency situations is driven by more than adrenalin or a simple heathy work ethic. It’s driven by a motivation to get every part of the response right and that entails hard work and attention to detail.
I contend that life at the fire hall between emergency responses needs to be much akin to our efforts at an emergency scene. Every one of us must be fully engaged, always. Like the fire ground, there are so many aspects to the successful day-to-day operation of our departments; for example, turnout gear inspection, keeping apparatus looking good, equipment inventory, maintenance and more.
Sure, with minimal effort a department will exist, but we need to go one step further to have our departments thrive and be the best they can be – even in those seemingly dreary times when calls are few and motivation may diminish.
How do we do get there, especially when calls are scarce? It is primarily, in my view, a matter of fire department culture. Creating that culture comes from several places. Leaders within the organization are without question primarily accountable here. We must be engaged and must be seen to be so. The right people in the organization are also key. That is a function of an effective recruiting and selection process and continually growing the most important element of our organizations – our people.
I am fortunate that some of my members have volunteered to take responsibility for extra duties such as SCBA management, driver training and qualification and rope rescue equipment. These members are well supported in terms of any resources they require in their extra duties. They also know they are well supported by the fire department leadership and their colleagues.
I believe in keeping my members fully informed on issues around the department at the operational level as well as goings-on administratively and politically. I do this simply because I want all members to be informed and engaged and feel as important as they are. Those “Chief’s Chats” I mentioned earlier, along with many daily interactions, go a long way to help in that regard.
Well-presented, challenging training is a keystone for us all. It undoubtedly is one of the most critical requirements for safe and effective responses, but there is more than that. Without question, great training manifests itself in us doing a better job in helping our customers. Yes, engaging training between calls builds and strengthens our skills, boosts morale and engages members. Firefighters that train hard as part of a challenging training regime are confident of their mastery of the job.
In a time when members are increasingly busy outside the fire department, we ask them to go beyond performing their core duties in many ways. Is it justified? I say an unequivocal yes. After all, we’re well beyond simply showing up for callouts and two hours of training every week or simply being present for a shift. The fire service is much more than a job – it’s a lifestyle that brings with it a set of values, beliefs, commitment and energy on and off the fire ground.
Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is now fire chief in Golden, B.C. Contact Dave at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @FireChiefDaveB.