Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fire Officer 101 “So What Do These Bugles Really Mean”

So you are a Fire Officer Now!!! So what does that really mean? What responsibilities do you have? What liabilities do you face? Hey, I wasn’t bargaining on questions like this!! If you are saying this then you do not want to miss this dynamic session that puts it all on the line of what it truly means to be an officer in today’s fire service. This power packed program will focus on the nuts and bolts of being a fire officer. You will not want to miss this down and dirty back to the basics for new and future officers. Come and learn just what it means to step up to accept the fire officer role in today’s fire service. Come learn what responsibilities you have and how you make a difference as an officer. As we quickly approach a time when much of the fire service leadership will be retiring we are destine to face the loss of great leadership in the fire service. This could prove to be a tragedy for our profession or we can make it a positive bench mark. A lot is going to depend upon several generations working closely together. That is the baby boomers and the generation Y and X coming together and realizing that the future belongs to those who prepare.

For years I would see the slogan, “The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare For It”, posted on the training class room wall of the Henderson North Carolina Fire Department. Chief Danny Wilkerson several times over used to say these same words to many of the young firefighters and officers that walked into that setting. As an instructor and a part-time member of that department it always struck me as an encouragement to continue to push to make a difference. Often times I personally struggled with just what that slogan really was saying. Well, for the first time as I write this article it has become crystal clear. The entire slogan was driven home with just one email blast from a great fire service colleague…Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder with his most recent secret list publication. Below is a small component of what was contained in that blast I would like to share:

“Sometimes....not everyone goes home.

In the discussions, one of the young firefighters who were involved with the rescue told me that he now HATED the term "everyone goes home" because, obviously, Kevin did not. It made me start to think. Was the slogan a problem?

It has nothing to do with a slogan. The slogan "Everyone Goes Home" is an attitude within a fire department that we'll do all we can to try and bring all of our firefighters home. It was and still is an attitude. Some of the younger firefighters understandably, just didn't get it at the time.
-It means that if we don't drive like idiots, we'll probably make it home.
-It means if we follow standards such as NFPA 1403, firefighter trainees will probably make it home.
-It means if we put our seat belts on and we collide on the way to a fire, we'll probably make it home.
-It means if we weigh 100 lbs too much, and we eat more salads, we'll probably make it home.
-It means that if it is obvious the building will collapse and we stay out of the way, we'll probably make it home.
-It means if we have the right amount of trained staffing and good bosses at a fire, we'll probably make it home.
.....and it means that if we drill and train on the stuff we need to do regularly, such as the ability to quickly get water on the fire, we'll probably make it home.”

The above excerpt really drives me to focus on the topic "What Do These Bugles Really Mean". We as leaders today will face the end of our careers. Many of my mentors are at that point currently. However, the leadership lessons they can still share are countless. Thank God, that these folks took an interest in us the leaders of the current fire service when we were youthful firefighters. As I look over the fire service today and especially after spending time at the Congressional Fire Service Institute recently, I can see that our fields are full of ripe future leaders just waiting to be harvested. Consequently we often scorn at the work ethic or analytical decision making that these individuals use as they make critical decisions. I can see clearly where my first mentors Jerry Green and Rick Rice, both officers with the department I began my fire service career with in Mullens, West Virginia, could see a ripening prospect as they made extra efforts to shape the future through shaping me for the future. As I see it, the old practice of using our youth to accomplish our work is the base preparation needed to make them tomorrow’s leader.

So where do we start this development process? We start by not accepting anything less than the best in everything we do. We further need to teach and share with our youth our experiences, even the ones which were not victories. Albert Einstein never viewed any unsuccessful attempt as a failure, rather a win in knowing one more way that didn’t work. These experiences will carry lifelong lessons learned. I frequently today find myself referring to situations, problems, successes and lessons learned as it relates to similar issues they are facing, as I mentor to younger fire service members. To make it as simple as I know how my father used to call this the “school of hard knocks education of life”. But today many fire officers never take time to share, mentor and teach our future leaders.

As we begin this process we must create an appealing environment. I always remember Chief Dan Jones of the Chapel Hill, North Carolina Fire Department being positive even when the chips didn’t fall the way he wanted them. He could make any black cloud have a silver lining. As I travel and have the opportunity to spend time with department leaders from across the county it never fails that someone is always negative. Nothing is ever positive. They can’t make a win-win situation out of anything. These folks are destined to make the same type of leaders.

We must present helpful teaching. Making the learning dynamics one of which we constantly learn by utilizing the three learning domains. Fire service leaders can really impact teaching with the affective mode of learning as students or future leaders learn basic concepts but can ultimately apply them to situations and affect outcomes. This is true learning and understanding. This concept is usually accomplished by current leaders sharing knowledge, experiences and allowing for mistakes.

Knowledge is Power… Share It!!! This statement is often used by many including myself. So what does it truly mean? It means that you will freely give of your knowledge and wisdom to others withholding nothing. It never fails, I will see a leader of an organization trying to hold information and knowledge from the next generation because they are afraid that this up and coming group will end up smarter than they are and as a leader they will lose control. Well take a reality check…for as long as I can remember each generation has obviously gotten smarter, more technologically advanced and has superseded the generation before them. So what makes that so bad. I thought we were trying to make things better? I am sure this will hurt a few toes but the truth is the truth. The folks doing the withholding are the dumb ones. If you combine knowledge everyone gets better even yourself! (Ouch!!) That’s right I took a jab at a few of you out there, but if we want to progress and if we are going to make progress we have to share our knowledge both good and bad with our youthful leaders to be. There future depends on it. In sharing this knowledge we have to be dynamic instructors creating engaging learning environments. A leader / instructor profile needs to encompass several areas to be able to meet these challenges and changes that we will face. First, we must find new motivation. Motivation that exceeds all levels previous. We must bring newfound excitement to the leadership programs we deliver. The excitement level that comes with the leader carries over and motivates the student to the same level or higher. We as leaders must enter the education setting that instruction is to take place with a true teaching attitude not one of just doing the minimum. Leaders need to develop the right attitude about instructing. Attitude starts with evaluating whether you are meeting the mission statement of the fire service, truly developing future leaders and your department through the training that you are performing. Secondly, you must evaluate whether your training is realistic. That is, realistic for your situation, operations, equipment, etc. Higher levels of training are great and have their place, but are we meeting all the basic needs of the future leaders we serve. If not, we need to reevaluate what and how we are teaching / mentoring.

As we begin developing these new leaders we must assure that we are creating level appropriate environments for their mentoring. Nothing can frustrate an individual more than to be placed above their capabilities (Better known as the Peter Principal). We need to evaluate each person and be brutally honest with them.

So where does Chief Goldfeder’s piece play in? I think it can be best said that for use to reach the attitude of “Everyone Goes Home” we must do the right things. Leadership plays the most significant role in this. As future leaders begin to develop they need to address the issues, learn from our mistakes, make educated and calculated risk / benefit analysis assessments and be brutally honest when necessary.

I see this where as I had an email argument with a member from VFIS on seat belt laws as to whether or not firefighters are exempt here in North Carolina. Point is who cares if we are exempt or not!!! We know that some things just don’t add up to being good risk benefit analysis decisions. We have witnessed several firefighter injuries and deaths from ejections from motor vehicle crashes over the last month. If they were belted they probably would not have been ejected and would have maybe survived. I agree with Chief Goldfeder, It has nothing to do with a slogan. The slogan "Everyone Goes Home" is an attitude within a fire department and a leader that we will do all we can to try and bring all of our firefighters home. It should be everyone’s attitude. Some of the leaders and firefighters just didn't get it at the time.
-It means that if we don't drive like idiots, we'll probably make it home.
-It means if we follow standards such as NFPA 1403, firefighter trainees will probably make it home.
-It means if we put our seat belts on and we collide on the way to a fire, we'll probably make it home.
-It means if we weigh 100 lbs too much, and we eat more salads, we'll probably make it home.
-It means that if it is obvious the building will collapse and we stay out of the way, we'll probably make it home.
-It means if we have the right amount of trained staffing and good bosses at a fire, we'll probably make it home.
- If we training future officers with good officers now then we will most likely get better and we can impact everyone going home.
.....and it means that if we drill and train on the stuff we need to do regularly, such as the ability to quickly get water on the fire, we'll probably make it home.”

I looking hard at the fire service around me I see a critical gap that we must address. That gap is the company officer. We spend a tremendous amount of time training firefighters and pump operators, but just how much time do we spend training people for the next step? Most departments try to utilize the firefighting experience that has been gained, however, is that enough? I say know! We need to focus on the other things that company officer do more of than just run emergency responses, which is about ten percent of the job. We need to focus on two factors affect the company officer’s position in the organization. First we take relatively inexperienced personnel at a company officer leadership role and place them in one of the most challenging positions in the fire service. We do this with little to no training. In the corporate world this would never happen. Secondly, we often place these new company officers at a work site that is remote from their supervisor for all of their normal non-emergency activities and for many minor non-emergencies too. We give them little direction and we expect miracles. When this doesn’t work out or we see there are issues what do we do…we make the next promotion and do the same things all over again expecting different results. We all know what that is the definition of…

I challenge the young and old alike, if you are a current leader in the fire service…stand up, get a backbone, polish your bugles, take a stance, start being an educator, mentor and be a true leader. If you are the youth of today, I challenge you to develop yourselves and be the leaders of tomorrow. Chief Dennis Compton I think puts it best, “Lead, Follow or Get out of the Way”. Fellow fire service brothers and sisters, tomorrow hinges on what you do today. THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO PREPARE FOR IT! Be a leader who shapes our future positively by preparing our youth of today to lead tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Safety in the Fire and Rescue Services - It’s A Matter of Attitude

I recently was on scene of a 1,000 gallon Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) tank that was lying on its side leaking what was clearly liquid creating a large white vapor cloud around the tank and creating a Lower Explosive Limits (LEL) hot zone of greater than 1,500 feet down wind of the tank. The Fire Department personnel went to work setting up hot zones, shutting down a major highway, evacuation and tactical strategies for entry to attempt mitigation. A second alarm for manpower was called for due to the heat and humidity. At this point you could say we were in the text book. The following could be the picture in Webster’s Dictionary beside the word freelancing. The County’s Assistant Emergency Management Director arrived on scene. He ascertained information of the situation and a strategic plan was outlined for him (I did this personally from an operational command role). I guess this was not good enough for him or his ignorance and complacency just took over. He borrowed a set of turnout gear (no SCBA), accessed the hot zone from a non monitored portion of the incident, utilized his limited previous experience of working with LPG and made entry into the large liquid vapor cloud and shut off the leak…all without command’s knowledge. All of this occurred as crews were preparing to make entry with hose lines to do the operation the correct way.

OUTCOME: The tank was shut off, the hazard was mitigated, and no one was injured.

POTENTIAL: Catastrophic proportions, death comes to mind first.

Not unlike other public safety professionals, the fire and rescue service is charged with the responsibility of protecting people and property from the ravages of fire and other hostile forces – both man made and natural. Who is going to protect us with acts like these going on? We are our own worst enemy when it comes to safety. Failure to be safe is a human act… ATTITUDE!!!

More than 100 firefighters are killed in the line of duty each year and thousands more receive non-fatal injuries. Safety is an issue in every profession and business. The fire service is no different from a construction business when it comes to safety. Without safe working conditions and safety conscious personnel, there will be an excess of injuries. Recent statistics show that for every 40 fire responses and 1,217 non-fire responses there is a reported firefighter injury. For every 43,875 fire responses and 1,133166 non-fire responses a firefighter looses their life in the line of duty. The total line of duty deaths for 2007 was great than 120. The year 2003 had 110 line of duty deaths. This is probably more astounding than you ever imagined. However, it is reality and we must strive to change these statistics. Last year every 3.25 days a firefighter lost their life in the line of duty. Hopefully at this point you are asking yourself how we can change these statistics. What can I do to make a difference? What can my department do that will lower these statistics? I believe that if you just follow and enact these ten simple philosophies into everyday practice and emergency responses, we will significantly drop the numbers. By the way Fire Chiefs, many of these do not impact your budget in a negative way.

It seems that when a firefighter is seriously injured or killed, the fire service does little to promote positive action to prevent a reoccurrence. The message spreads quickly of a fallen comrade, but the lesson is slow to follow and is seldom learned. One area of this is the line of duty deaths that occur as a result of motor vehicle accidents. It has been shown repeatedly where the “Need for Speed” is not relevant in most cases. Now I am not advocating that we not expedite our responses but the difference between 65 mph and 55 mph is a drastic difference when you look at the handling of a 48 1/2-foot long ladder truck that weighs 73,500 pound or a large pumper weighing 45,000 pound. The laws of physics show a drastic difference in the stopping distances not to mention the external forces that affect the apparatus.

Time is long over due for the fire and rescue services to actively and seriously address the firefighter casualty issue. Too often we tend to take a cosmetic approach rather than getting to the root of the problem. We treat the symptoms and rarely the cause.

The fire and rescue services, at all levels, must rise to meet this challenge. This means doing what is necessary to turn around the seemingly apathetic or complacent attitude about safety which prevails in the fire service today. At this point you may be saying to your self that the fire service is safer today than it ever has been. This may be true, but times change and we are playing catch up!!! Although technology is a necessary ingredient in the safety recipe, it is not the most important. This is where I feel a lot of professionals are missing the point. Sure we are dressed well today and out equipment and apparatus are safer. This aspect is of the utmost importance and is a portion of the recipe. This is the portion that is most often not left out. Where we are lacking is the ATTITUDE of both management and the firefighter.

When a firefighter commits an unsafe act, is it solely his fault, or the fault of management, or both? The origin of the problem has got to be management. Without the support of management, there is NO safety program. I know some of you may be shaking your head about the last statement, but think of it…Unsafe acts start with attitude or the lack there of. If a positive attitude, by administration, demanding safety is introduced the first minute the firefighter comes into the profession, then this is the first impression. If that attitude continues and is fostered then it becomes a part of the mental capacity. Thus safety is a paramount in the thought process of firefighters and will take hold. Division Chief Edward Buchanan of the Hanover County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue recently stated in a program at the Fire Rescue Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada that he could not change his department’s mentality over night, but he could impact positive change every class and every day. This statement holds exceptional power to the truth. And guess where it is starting…management.

Although the development and maintenance of an effective safety program can reduce the firefighter death and injury rate, it is useless if the firefighter is not willing to accept it. Management and the firefighter must make a concerted effort to promote, support, practice and ENFORCE sound safety principles and practices. Safety is a way of life; without it, we become highly vulnerable to injury and even death.

Motivation plays an intregal part in the success of a department’s safety program. This motivation should start with the highest management level and continue down through the ranks to the lowest level. If you don’t have the support of the chief, you don’t have an effective safety program! Many departments have elaborate safety programs and policies. It takes more than paper to develop a good safety program – it takes actions! This action and attitude is what we are missing most.

Each officer is responsible for practicing and enforcing all safety measures both written and unwritten. He is responsible for the safety and welfare of their subordinates. This holds true for non-emergency as well as emergency activities.

Motivation is necessary in the training environment as well as the emergency and non-emergency ones. The instructor, like the officer, is responsible for the safety and welfare of the students. The instructor is charged with keeping safety foremost in the minds of students, officers and other instructors. The dangers as well as safety precautions associated with the practical training evolutions must be emphasized before, during and at the end of each training evolution. The same holds true for real life incidents. We must learn from mistakes and never make the same mistake twice.

The firefighter must develop a total awareness of the need and value of safety. He / She should want to comply with safety regulations out of concern for their own well-being as well as the well-being of other firefighters rather than out of fear of punishment.

The department must reach the entry-level firefighter and must reach out to change seasoned firefighter’s mentalities. The entry-level firefighter is the easiest of reach since they know very little about the hazards of the occupation. They can develop a positive attitude about safety with little to no biases. It is up to the instructors, officers and administration to get the message across.

The instructor, officer and administration must approach and deliver the subject with enthusiasm, interest, and conviction. Remember, the firefighter's reaction to what you have to say will be influenced by how well you deliver the material (i.e. how you come across). You have to be a great sales person. You must sell the product – safety. As to how much of the “product” is bought by the firefighters/students is going to depend largely upon you – the officer / instructor. The officer / instructor must reach every level of firefighter. The entry level is especially important as a target audience due to the fact they have no preconceived ideas or knowledge as to what safety is and has very little knowledge about the hazards of the occupation. This makes it easier for them to develop a positive attitude about safety. It is up to the officer / instructor at the outset and throughout each day, week, month and year to focus on this concept of safety.

Safety Cycle
The safety cycle consists of six areas that must have constant focus. These areas are; Training, Station, Response, Emergency Scene, Return and Personal.

In Training safety must be emphasized before, during and after each practical evolution. Remember, the training grounds should be only one step removed from actual emergency operations. A safety zone or area would be identified to warn that personnel entering it must wear full protective clothing. This applies to everyone. Safety is the responsibility of everyone. Recently I was out at my departments training facility as set up to high angle rescue operations training was being set up. It was a part of a regional USAR training session. As they were nearing the beginning of a drill one of the individuals that were facilitating the exercise called out to me. Chief you need a helmet on or you need to leave the area. This statement was as powerful as any law enforcement tazer gun hitting me. Here I constantly preach safety and I was the one who was caught being complacent. Wake up call… yes, but one well deserved. My hat is off to this gentleman for pointing out my shortcomings. He was doing what he was programmed to do and what he believed. That is one positive hit that I am glad to be the recipient of.

In the station we must not let our guard down as we are in a “safety zone” in our minds. Many debilitating injuries to emergency services workers happen in the station. We must maintain a constant focus towards the safety aspects of every inch of our stations and the activities within.

The response to and from emergency scenes, nearly every week you can read of emergency apparatus being involved in a motor vehicle crash as they respond to emergencies. It is a known fact that the more you respond the higher the risk is for you being involved in an incident. However there are a few control factors that can have a significant impact on the incident and the frequency of which we see them. One is the old saying “I feel the need…the need for speed”. Well Richard Petty, just slow down. The difference in a few miles per hour speed is not proportional to the amount of time you could possibly save as compared to safety. The risk benefit analysis is not there. We are risking a lot to say well, I don’t know since I am not on scene. Also, remember the control factors, the size of the apparatus has a significant impact on the stopping distance, maneuverability and steering. Drive for the road conditions not the emergency!

The emergency scene is one area that most individuals would focus if their mindset were towards safety. However, each year we continue to have many line of duty deaths on scenes. The hazards of scenes range from fire-heat to the building itself, the area of working to how well your equipment is maintained.

Personal safety is a must. No one loves you like you do. Do not be part of the problem, be part of the solution. You must take ownership in safety for yourself before others can help keep you safe. Your personal safety is about how well your emotional status, alertness, physical fitness levels, training and most of all how your ATTITUDE is. Freelancing is one term that comes to mind when I talk about attitude and personal safety. If you are off doing your own thing, then you really are not taking ownership in your safety much less the safety of others on that scene.

Chain of Safety
The chain of safety is like any other chain; it is only as strong as its weakest link. When there is a failure of one or more “links”, the safety program is in jeopardy and the likelihood of an accident is increased. There are four components in the safety chain: Fire Chief, Officers, Training and Firefighters.

The Fire Chief must openly support the safety program. Support means encouragements as well as enforcement when necessary. The officers of the department must practice what they preach. To do less is to be negligent of their duties. The safety and welfare of their subordinates is a moral and legal obligation. When it comes to safety there is no place for the “good ole boy” syndrome. This syndrome broken down into a definition would read like this; failing to encourage or require subordinates to do their job out of fear of being disliked. Such a syndrome promotes disrespect, distrust and most importantly unsafe acts. A positive attitude and a safe training environment must prevail in the classroom and on the training grounds. Safety must be accorded due respect and consideration on each and every training class. It is important not to become complacent in this area because the instructor should serve as the role model. Finally if the firefighter doesn’t accept the safety program, then the program will fail miserably. We all must learn to appreciate the value of performing our duties in a safe manner
Ten Commandments of Safety

1. LEARN the safe way to do your job before you start.
2. THINK safety, and ACT safety at all times.
3. OBEY safety rules and regulations – they are there for YOUR protection.
4. WEAR appropriate personal protective clothing at all times.
5. CONDUCT yourself properly at all times – horseplay and freelancing is strictly prohibited.
6. OPERATE only the equipment you are authorized to use and do it safely every time.
7. INSPECT tools and equipment for safe conditions before starting work.
8. ADVISE your superior promptly of any unsafe conditions or practices.
9. REPORT any Injury immediately to your superior.
10. SUPPORT your safety program and take an active role in safety daily.

Safety in the fire service is a matter of attitude. We must work to foster the right attitudes. We can not afford not to! As the old saying goes “Better Safe, Than Sorry”.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Given the organic, constant and inevitable nature of change in the fire service, how could we ever think that what works today will work tomorrow? The reality is, if a strategy or tactic is working now, the odds are high that it will not work in the future. There is just too much change taking place in our world for it to be any other way.

Many fire departments and leaders talk about “best practices” when what should be talked about is “best thinking”, because it’s our thinking that drives our actions, which over time become out practices.

Are you best thinking?

Best Practices or best thinking?

Given the organic, constant and inevitable nature of change in the fire service, how could we ever think that what works today will work tomorrow? The reality is, if a strategy or tactic is working now, the odds are high that it will not work in the future. There is just too much change taking place in our world for it to be any other way.

Many fire departments and leaders talk about “best practices” when what should be talked about is “best thinking”, because it’s our thinking that drives our actions, which over time become out practices.

Are you best thinking?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Leadership Got Your Department Boogered Up?

Across the world I bet if you sat around the table on the tailboard of an apparatus or at any conference you would hear some folks that are talking about how “Boogered up” their department is. So what do you do when your department is “Boogered up”? The important component is to look in the mirror first and see if you are part of the problem. That’s right; I put the blame on you. Why? Well you are part of the department and most often we have a contribution to everything that occurs in the department at some level. So are you contributing to the “Boogering up” of the department? Well let’s look and see if you are part of the problem or part of the solution.

Let the Department clarify our motive
Let each individual in the department examine themselves thoroughly and know their hearts. With that we mean are we following the mission of the department or are we working to meet your personal mission. Remember there is no “I” in team, so if you are more focused on your own mission than the department’s, then you are making a major contribution to the “Boogering up” of the department. With this we also need to look at this from both sides especially if you are an officer. I question you folks to look and see if you are servicing both customers; the public and the troops. Often you will see individuals who make the officer level forget where they came from. It is important that you serve both sets of customers. So bottom line is if we get in tune with what the mission of the department and the strategic plan of the Fire Chief then everyone will have ample opportunity to most often meet both the mission of the department and their own mission. This is possible because most times these have many similar aspirations if you just really look at them.

Purify our thinking
In getting focused on the mission of the department you will see that the “Boogering” will just blow away. To do this the department needs to have pure thinking for the department and not the individuals in the department. By focusing on the good of the community we will again go back to focus on the mission. This is something that leaders must do every day. As we talk the talk we must also walk the walk. The troops can see past the transparent membranes we try to hide behind as officers. If we focus on being pure of heart we will see the focus from the troops will come in line. Community relations are a big job, too big for a single person to handle. It will require the efforts of every member of your team to make this a successful venture. Of course it starts with you as the leader. As the leader you must sell this concept to the group of people who deal with the community on a daily basis, the emergency responders. During their work delivering emergency services they must execute the plan. I know you are asking what plan. The plan is what you want to accomplish in gaining community support. One of the more common theories that I heard recently at a conference made perfect sense. As an emergency services department you must make yourself so desirable that it would be political suicide for the governing agency not to give you what you want because the community would be upset. For this concept to work each individual of the department must buy into this concept of community support.

To think correctly as an officer you have to have to be honest with yourself and everyone else involved.

Reveal the department’s problems
I have always heard that everything in the department is g-14 classified and if administration told you they would have to kill you. Well where that anomaly came from…I don’t know. I have been in administration for several years now and it seem to me that if you want to know something you need to go to the troops as they seem to have some major inside connection that tells them everything…even some things that really never could be possible or true. As a leader you need to be open and up front with your folks. I have a hard time seeing where anything we do other than personnel issues and business deals is such a big secret. Here are some ideas:

1. Make your budget proposal available for your personnel to see.
2. Have input from others on the budget.
3. Have a web site section or a book for department communications.
4. Strategic plans should be shared and reviewed by others.
5. Conduct critiques of incidents
6. Have personnel situations where there is tension have to address the issue head to head.

These are just a few ideas that can open up the department’s ability to identify issues and make improvements with buy in from all levels.

Replace old thoughts with modern truths
I know everyone has heard or said the following statement, “That is the way we have always done it.” If you are not in one of these categories you have either just got into the fire service about 10 minutes ago of you are in complete denial. These words have been spoken more times than we care to think. The problem is we never seem to move on from what we have always done.

As times change so do the situations that we are confronted with. Responses are much different than they were 20 years ago. Firefighters whom have entered the fire service over the last 7-10 years have strong computer and technology skills. Fires are fueled with different materials. Building construction has drastically changed. However we are still in some cases deploying the same old tactics that were taught 20+ years ago. The two do not match up. The contents of our homes and businesses emit gases more quickly during fires and laden the smoke with more volatility than did the smoke witnessed by experienced fire officers from previous decades. To make matters worse, we are responding to fewer fires which significantly decreases our experience. As a result, we are seeing an increase in the number of firefighter injuries and deaths from flashover and other hostile fire events. It is time to take the no changes mentality off the back-burner and update it to the challenges of today.

Help each individuals identify their own short comings
A skills gap analysis is undertaken to identify the skills that an employee needs, but may not have, to carry out his or her job or to perform certain tasks effectively. The skills gap concept is used in areas such as businesses and educational institutes. The fire service falls under both of these areas. The first step in performing an analysis is to identify all the skills required by an individual to carry out his or her work. It should then be possible to identify the critical and noncritical skills that are needed to carry out a role effectively.

A critical skill is one that is required to complete a task successfully. Noncritical skills enable a task to be completed more quickly or efficiently, or at less cost than would otherwise be the case. There is a relatively simple method for determining whether a skill is critical or noncritical. Quite simply, if an employee lacks a skill but completes a task satisfactorily, the skill is noncritical. Conversely, if a person completes a task but the outcome is unsatisfactory, the missing skill is critical.

By applying skills gap analysis across fire companies it is possible to find out which skill and knowledge shortfalls there are in an organization. It is then possible to target training resources on those necessary skills that require the most attention. This should result in the optimal use of resources in terms of improving the overall performance of the individuals thus impacting the organizational performance.

For individuals, skills gap analysis can be used to produce personal development and training plans. It can also be used to bolster morale by showing how they have progressed over time.

For a department, skills gap analysis can be used to identify which staff members have most knowledge of particular aspects of the profession as well as those with skill gaps. Furthermore, it can aid recruitment by identifying the candidate whose skills best match those needed to function effectively in leadership roles. For example, in an application of skills gap analysis to the role of a firefighter, the essential skills considered were: critical thinking, oral communication, and the ability to work with others. Analysis also allows benchmarking and encourages tutoring and mentoring within teams.

Skills gap analysis can be undertaken using paper-based assessments, evaluations, assessments and supporting interviews. However, if an analysis is to be performed across a large number of employees, it can create a huge management and administrative burden. Many departments therefore use skill management software.

Analysis can be applied on a continuing basis or as a one-off exercise. Specialized software can generate a skills gap analysis report with a few clicks of the mouse. Paper-based reports take somewhat longer, depending on how many questions there are to answer.

· A skills gap analysis can provide a critical overview of a company, allowing management to determine if staff has the necessary skills to meet department objectives or achieve a change in strategy.
· It provides an analysis of skill gaps in an organization, department, or individual role.
· Analysis helps departments to prioritize their training plans and resources.
· Analysis can help with recruitment and training, and it gives management a basis for deciding which staff should be retained and which are expendable.

· Conducting a skills gap analysis can be costly in terms of the required investment in paper-based assessments or software, as well as the time required from staff to participate and for management to evaluate the results.
· It may be simpler and more cost-effective to ask company officers to identify skill gaps in their fire companies, or simply to ask staff in which areas they need additional training.
· The assessment can be subjective and open to distortion if staff do not answer questions correctly or do true assessments.

Dos and Don’ts

· Consider the potential impact of a skills gap analysis on morale. Assessing an employee’s capabilities can create fear and suspicion unless the reason for the analysis is understood and communicated effectively or done without the employee knowing it.
· Don’t assume that you need to create a bespoke (in-house) framework to perform a skills gap analysis. Off-the-shelf frameworks can be suitable when adapted to your department’s needs.
· Don’t focus only on training needs. Skills gap analysis can be used to plan recruitment and redundancy programs, support organizational restructures, build effective teams, and manage business change.

Don’t go around saying something is OK when it isn’t

I am sure you have been around people who like to bury their heads in the sand. You know the ones who avoid confrontation and have rose colored glasses. It is important to recognize and identify when situations are not OK.

Now that we know that it is not healthy for any organization, group or individual to go around saying it is OK when it isn’t, how do we fix the problem?

· Admit there is /are issue(s).
· Identify what the issue(s) is /are.
· Search for solutions to correct the issue(s).
· Develop a strategy of solution implementation and evaluation.
· Follow through with your efforts.

The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them. Don’t let leadership get “Boogered Up” in your organization.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Impact or Influence Someone May Have

I recieved this in an email and it has alot of relivance to the fire service. Please take time to read on.

I sat, with two friends, in the picture window of a quaint restaurant just off the corner of the town-square. The food and the company were both especially good that day. As we talked, my attention was drawn outside, across the street. There, walking into town, was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back.. He was carrying, a well-worn sign that read, 'I will work for food.' My heart sank. I brought him to the attention of my friends and noticed that others around us had stopped eating to focus on him. Heads moved in a mixture of sadness and disbelief. We continued with our meal, but his image lingered in my mind. We finished our meal and went our separate ways. I had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them. I glanced toward the town square, looking somewhat halfheartedly for the strange visitor. I was fearful, knowing that seeing him again would call some response.. I drove through town and saw nothing of him. I made some purchases at a store and got back in my car. Deep within me, the Spirit of God kept speaking to me: 'Don't go back to the office until you've at least driven once more around the square..' Then with some hesitancy, I headed back into town. As I turned the square's third corner, I saw him. He was standing on the steps of the store front church, going through his sack. I stopped and looked; feeling both compelled to speak to him, yet wanting to drive on. The empty parking space on the corner seemed to be a sign from God: an invitation to park. I pulled in, got out and approached the town's newest visitor. 'Looking for the pastor?' I asked. 'Not really,' he replied, 'just resting.' 'Have you eaten today?' 'Oh, I ate something early this morning.'
'Would you like to have lunch with me?' 'Do you have some work I could do for you?' 'No work,' I replied 'I commute here to work from the city, but I would like to take you to lunch.' 'Sure,' he replied with a smile. As he began to gather his things, I asked some surface questions. Where you headed?' ' St. Louis ' 'Where you from?' 'Oh, all over; mostly Florida ..' 'How long you been walking?' 'Fourteen years,' came the reply.. I knew I had met someone unusual. We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left earlier. His face was weathered slightly beyond his 38 years. His eyes were dark yet clear, and he spoke with an eloquence and articulation that was startling He removed his jacket to reveal a bright red T-shirt that said, 'Jesus is The Never Ending Story.' Then Daniel's story began to unfold. He had seen rough times early in life. He'd made some wrong choices and reaped the consequences.. Fourteen years earlier, while backpacking across the country, he had stopped on the beach in Daytona.. He tried to hire on with some men who were putting up a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought. He was hired, but the tent would not house a concert but revival services, and in those services he saw life more clearly. He gave his life over to God 'Nothing's been the same since,' he said, 'I felt the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did, some 14 years now.' 'Ever think of stopping?' I asked. 'Oh, once in a while, when it seems to get the best of me But God has given me this calling. I give out Bibles That's what's in my sack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out when His Spirit leads.' I sat amazed. My homeless friend was not homeless. He was on a mission and lived this way by choice. The question burned inside for a moment and then I asked: 'What's it like?' 'What?' ; 'To walk into a town carrying all your things on your back and to show your sign?' 'Oh, it was humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread and made a gesture that certainly didn't make me feel welcome. But then it became humbling to realize that God was using me to touch lives and change people's concepts of other folks like me..'
My concept was changing, too. We finished our dessert and gathered his things. Just outside the door, he paused He turned to me and said, 'Come Ye blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom I've prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in.' I felt as if we were on holy ground. 'Could you use another Bible?' I asked.. He said he preferred a KJV. It traveled well and was not too heavy. It was also his personal favorite.. 'I've read through it 14 times,' he said. 'I'm not sure we've got one of those, but let's stop by our church and see' I was able to find my new friend a Bible that would do well, and he seemed very grateful. 'Where are you headed from here?' I asked. 'Well, I found this little map on the back of this amusement park coupon.' 'Are you hoping to hire on there for a while?'
'No, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that's where I'm going next.' He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated the sincerity of his mission. I drove him back to the town-square where we'd met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and unloaded his things. 'Would you sign my autograph book?' he asked.. 'I like to keep messages from folks I meet.' I wrote in his little book that his commitment to his calling had touched my life. I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah, 'For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not evil, to give you an expected end.' 'Thanks, man,' he said. 'I know we just met and we're really just strangers, but I love you.' 'I know,' I said, 'I love you, too.' 'The Lord is good!' 'Yes, He is. How long has it been since someone hugged you?' I asked. A long time,' he replied And so on the busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced, and I felt deep inside that I had been changed.. He put his things on his back, smiled his winning smile and said, 'See you in the New Jerusalem.' 'I'll be there!' was my reply. He began his journey again. He headed away with his sign dangling from his bedroll and pack of Bibles. He stopped, turned and said, 'When you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?' 'You bet,' I shouted back, 'God bless.' 'God bless.' And that was the last I saw of him. Late that evening as I left my office, the wind blew strong. The cold front had settled hard upon the town. I bundled up and hurried to my car. As I sat back and reached for the emergency brake, I saw them... a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the length of the handle. I picked them up and thought of my friend and wondered if his hands would stay warm that night without them. Then I remembered his words: 'If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?' Today his gloves lie on my desk in my office.. They help me to see the world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember those two hours with my unique friend and to pray for his ministry. 'See you in the New Jerusalem,' he said. Yes, Daniel, I know I will...
'I shall pass this way but once. Therefore, any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.'