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Exploiting the strengths in our numbers

Imagine yourself and your crew training at the hall or maybe executing a rescue or battling a blazing fire. Is there someone among you, or in your department you turn to for expertise when you are involved in an incident? It may not be the same person every time – maybe during an operation everyone turns to you, their eyes searching for an answer or for a skill you possess.

January 6, 2009
By Jesse Challoner

Imagine yourself and your crew training at the hall or maybe executing a rescue or battling a blazing fire. Is there someone among you, or in your department you turn to for expertise when you are involved in an incident? It may not be the same person every time – maybe during an operation everyone turns to you, their eyes searching for an answer or for a skill you possess.

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The familiar adage “no one is good at everything but everyone is good at something”, is one that we should all take to heart, especially at the firehouse. Be it our newest probie or our most senior officer, everyone has something to offer. It may lie in being apt with ropes and knots or an in-depth understanding of fire behaviour; it could be proficiency in rescue tactics and operations or outstanding interpersonal skills – the point is that in a team environment no one person acts alone, we rely on each other to carry out tasks. We are all certainly able to get the job done, but there are firefighters among us who have aptitudes in specific areas and it is our responsibility to use those talents for everyone’s benefit.

Having these skills at our disposal is a great advantage for our departments, but we may not be taking full advantage of these talents. If we can identify people’s capabilities to excel at something, why not exploit those abilities and provide those people with a forum through which to share their knowledge? This will allow us to grow, learn and better serve the communities that we protect. Exercising skills forces us to become better. After all, practise makes almost perfect.

The challenge is to identify a person’s talent or skill. We must watch for these to shine, or even consciously attempt to identify our own skills. Then, we can concentrate on sharing these resources with our department members, highlighting them, honing them, adding to them and practising what we learn. It is up to all of us to challenge ourselves and our colleagues to offer what we are gifted at, to expose the areas of our skill sets and to pass those tools around.

Some proficiency is naturally acquired; some is learned through teaching. The skills that we have at our disposal may have come from past experiences. A firefighter who once worked as a pipe fitter will be able to offer insight as to the inner workings of a pump truck. Someone who has a degree in kinesiology may prove to be a great fitness leader. A firefighter who came from a previous department will surely be able to offer new or different ideas. It would be beneficial to allow these individuals to make our workplaces better through their experiences and expertise.

The flip side of this coin is to ensure that we take the opportunities to learn from those around us when we can. We should never pass up the occasion to discover a new skill or to practise an old one. We all know that fire fighting is a progressive field and those who get rusty, who stop learning, who choose not to keep up, often get left behind. Unfortunately it is usually those people who make mistakes and in our business any mistake can be catastrophic. It is therefore imperative that we continually challenge ourselves to become better. We can accomplish this in many ways; one simple avenue is to pay attention when a brother or sister on the floor offers up a voice to say something productive.

We can adopt new skill sets from our everyday lives outside the fire hall too. Expressing an openness to expand will assist us in accessing something applicable to our operations. Conversely, our ability to continually implement diverse ways of accomplishing things on the job can be an asset to us when not on shift. I can think of a multitude of times when I have applied a trick of the trade to a project outside of work. Adopting this mentality allows us to be not only excellent firefighters but also to be dynamic individuals.

We don’t all excel at all aspects of our jobs but we are all in this field for a reason; we were chosen because someone saw something in us that would benefit our departments. Do a self-assessment and see what you have to offer. Take the next opportunity to showcase what you’ve got. Create a positive forum for others to share their experience and knowledge to better the crew. This experience does not have to be limited to fire fighting-specific activities. Maybe there is one among you who is excellent with people – this person could be an outstanding public-relations representative and may need only a positive push in that direction. Whatever the case, we all have a flair for an aspect of our work and, with support, we can make our departments better.

We must all step up, stand together and learn from each other. We challenge ourselves to become better firefighters by appreciating and using our talents. If we apply ourselves to the proficiency of the department and our crews, we cannot fail.

Jesse Challoner has been with Strathcona County Emergency Services for 2.5 years and has been in the emergency services field since 2002. He is an EMT and is completing the two-year paramedic program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Contact him at  jchalloner@hotmail.com