March 6, 2015, Winnipeg - I was recently assigned a temporary position seconded to our Winnipeg Fire Paramedic headquarters to assist with our Emergency Preparedness Program. As well, I’ve was asked to look at some policies and see if there are ways to streamline some of our processes. As you know, an emergency service organization runs off of rules, procedures, guidelines and orders, and it can be quite a task to keep track of all these directives.
So far, adjusting to a nine-to-five work week has been OK, however, I did find myself in a Costco on Saturday afternoon cursing my nine-to-five existence. Such is life – as I found out – that Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Costco is virtually empty. There are some perks, however; I have not missed one of my kid’s hockey games, and I’ve attended a few more dance classes to watch my youngest daughter learn ballet, which I might add is extremely difficult. I’m not sure how these dancers aren’t recognized, along with their instructors, as competitive athletes. I never would have thought that ballet would be so rigid in structure, and yet so understated in all of its elegance and splendour. I actually found myself putting my phone away and watching how the transitions play out from one dance segment to the next.
My wife took me to the Nutcracker many years back and I did not know it was a ballet. I thought we were going to some stuffy, up-tight building to see some guys in big hats and soldier suits sing some songs and march around at Christmas time; it was all just Nutcrackers to me. I guess when you’re not actually seeing the trees through the forest you have no idea what you’re actually looking at.
Not only have my perceptions of routine things in my personal life changed, but I have also taken a new view in my work life of how a Fire Paramedic department works. I’ve always known generally how it works, just as you know the trees are there; but I had never realized just how important the administration staff members are to a fire and paramedic department. First, the administration support staff basically make up the nucleus of headquarters – without this bunch of dedicated soldiers the work of the department does not get done, period. There is no other way to define these women and men other than as absolutely crucial, and a gazillion times awesome. Here in Winnipeg, the HQ staff that support all the different branches are vital in collecting, analyzing, sorting, creating and processing everything. While the chiefs are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the organization, the actual management of these forward-moving directives is carried out through the work of these fine people in administration.
Secondly, the Information technology folks are, by and large, my new secret service, spy-type heroes. IT folks are amazing, and I have unfortunately realized by watching them shoot lasers out of their fingers that I really have no clue how to use a computer. I’m very jealous of their knowledge and the ease by which they do their work. There are probably 10 other working groups up here at WFPS HQ that I could throw compliments to, and they all deserve their kudos as well, however I’ve only been upstairs for a month, and have not had a chance to meet and or work with everyone yet.
I think it is very important that every fire and paramedic personnel get a chance to see how the job is run from inside the forest. I can tell you that I certainly see a few more trees today than I did just a few short weeks ago. And while emergency services work may not always be as elegant as the ballet, the professionalism and dedication to the task unquestionably produces an orchestrated masterpiece.
Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg, and an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills.
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