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Solving management dilemmas

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Solving management dilemmas
Steven Kraft, deputy fire chief in Richmond Hill, Ont., is passionate about firefighter safety and education and has had joined our growing stable of columnists. Steve’s Your Call feature demands reader feedback and we hope you’ll oblige, either through letters, e-mails or comments to our website.

February 1, 2008
By Steven Kraft

picture_5Steve Kraft’s Your Call column will appear in Fire Fighting in Canada starting in February. This new column demands reader feedback and we hope you’ll oblige, either through letters, e-mails or comments you can post our website. Each month, Steve will pose a dilemma or scenario that challenges managers to make the right decision. We’re anxious to hear how you would handle things or how you did handle a similar crisis or situation.
Welcome, Steve!

I am honored to contribute to Fire Fighting in Canada with this new feature. As a member of the fire service for almost 20 years, I read numerous articles in North American fire magazines and I am always amazed at how much I don’t know, or, as I like to put it, how much I continue to learn. It seems that most articles are about fire fighting tactics, although I have witnessed a commitment over the last few years to publish more items about management and leadership.

As a deputy chief, I have come to realize that we need to work harder to teach our officers how to deal with everyday situations and I’m not talking about emergency incidents. Rather, I’m referring to the day-to-day activities that challenge supervisors. Often, it seems that supervisors are dealing with a difficult issue for the first time. This is not acceptable, as it is not fair to the officer, the people involved or your fire department.

Most of the problems I’m referring to are not specific to the fire service. It really doesn’t matter if you work for Wal-Mart, Microsoft or Tim Hortons or a fire department – supervisors must be able to coach, mentor and help their people get through the difficult situations that they will encounter during their careers.

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Most of us can recite hundreds of hours of training on ventilation, incident command, auto extrication and water streams but how many of us can recite just 10 hours of training on conflict resolution, behavior pattern inventory or motivational theories? Obviously there’s a need to train for  emergency incidents but it’s also necessary to help supervisors cope with everyday issues that have an explosive potential if not dealt with quickly and appropriately. I’m referring to personality conflicts among staff, arguments that happen because someone ate someone else’s sandwich, unacceptable performance by one or more of your staff or trying to get the most out of people at all times. Supervisors need the knowledge, skills and abilities to deal with these types of situations when they occur but  most departments  can’t invest the time to teach their officers the skills necessary to be good supervisors. Most of us have a process through which firefighters write an exam and are promoted and given supervisory responsibilities. 

With this series, I hope to provide officers with information that helps them make the right decisions. The advice will be based on feedback from readers, my own experiences and information from other articles, books, legislation and regulations. I don’t believe officers should be put in situations in which they are dealing with a predictable problem for the first time. Could you imagine telling a firefighter to operate a defibrillator without providing the necessary training?

To many officers, behavior pattern inventory, conflict resolution, 360-degree feedback, transformational leadership or understanding the theory of change  is uncharted territory. Sure, there will always be officers who take it upon themselves to seek out courses and train every day – kudos to them. But for the most part we are not disciplined enough to do that. We wait for the training to come to us, which is exactly what I intend to do. In this space, I will pose a question to readers. Some of the questions will be specific to composite and/or full-time departments; some will be specific to the volunteer service; and others will cater to the fire service in general. I will invite your comments and then print several responses.

In answering the question it is expected that you will reference your operating guidelines, rules and regulations, legislation and your own experiences. I ask that your answer be kept to 250  words or less. I will also provide an answer that is based on my own experiences, training that I have received, legislation, theory, etc. I will attempt to  provide a problem that you will probably encounter at some point in your career and then give you suggested methods for handling the issue. That way, when you encounter this problem around your fire hall, you will have already had some form of training for it. 
I am excited about this opportunity and optimistic that you will help make this feature successful. If we can provide several answers to situations that surface regularly in our fire halls, I know we will help new supervisors become better equipped, which will help their fire departments be the best they can be.

Here is the first scenario: One of your firefighters approaches you and asks for a few minutes of your time. He starts explaining that every time there is work to be done around the fire hall, firefighter Lansing is nowhere to be found. Everyone recognizes that Lansing is a good firefighter but people are becoming frustrated with his lack of participation. How would you handle this situation?

Please email your reply to skraft@richmondhill.ca. Include your name, rank and department . Please remember to keep your reply to 250 words.

Steve Kraft is the deputy chief and a 19 year member of the Richmond Hill Fire Department. He has completed the certificate in fire service leadership though Dalhousie University and is a graduate of the fire protection technologist course at the Ontario Fire College. He is a certified Community Emergency Management co-ordinator and is enrolled in Western University, where he is completing his diploma in public administration. 


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