Dead Zones in your fire department

CarolinaFireJournal - Glenn Hamm
Glenn Hamm
04/23/2012 -

Just the other day, I was on my cell phone talking to my lieutenant about an upcoming project that had to be taken care of ASAP at our department. I knew exactly how to tackle the project and how we were going to get it done. I had a top notch plan. Like a general in a war room, I paced back and forth in the truck bay laying out my ingenious plan of attack. It wasn’t until my lieutenant strolled through the bay door with a huge smile on his face and no cell phone to his ear that I realized there was no one on the other end of the line listening to me. My call had been dropped. I had walked into a dead zone.


Figuratively, dead zones are present in all of our departments. Often unseen and unrecognized until it is too late, we find ourselves completely unaware that we have lost our ability to effectively communicate with those around us. Also, dead zones create scary situations. At best it means that the job may not get done the way we want it. Worst case it could affect the health and safety of our personnel. Therefore, as leaders in the fire service we must ensure that we recognize and eliminate the dead zones in our departments and in our lives. Below are five tips to help you avoid dead zone in your department.

So, can you hear me now? ...Good.

Develop a Plan

I have heard it said, “Don’t just stand there, do something.” What a stupid idea! Unorganized chaos has no place in the fire service. The key to getting any job done and done right begins with the establishment of a clear-cut plan with detailed goals and objectives. This begins with preparing and preplanning for any incident you may encounter. If you are waiting for the alarm to sound or a problem to arise, you are already behind. Hopefully your department has taken the time to develop a set of Standard Operating Guidelines. Don’t have any SOGs? Jump on it and make it happen NOW!

Your SOGs remain the best resource to which to turn when developing most of your plans. Even if you don’t have SOGs, yet, you must approach the issue at hand in a systematic manner and avoid the Keystone Cop response at all costs. My take on it is something more like this. “Don’t just do something. Stand There.” ... and develop a plan. Taking a moment to gather your thoughts to see exactly where you and your team stand is an important task for any leader in the fire service.

Verbalize Your Objectives

People are not mind readers and generally do not know what you are thinking. I have seen many chiefs and other departmental leaders who become completely enraged when a scene or a project does not go as they had anticipated. However, at no time, did they stop and verbalize the objectives that they expected to be met. Your greatest hopes, dreams, goals and ambitions will never be achieved by the group you are called to lead if you do not take the effort to express them. Don’t assume that those around you or under your command will be able to read between the lines. Simply, say what you expect.

Are They Listening?

Once you have verbalized your thoughts you must ensure that the plan made it from point A (you) to point B (them). It is easy to assume that you have the attention of the group even when you don’t. Stop and take the time to ask smart questions of those that you are addressing and see if they are actively engaged and committed to the task at hand. How will you integrate follow-up questions this into your next fire scene?

Get Feedback

Stop talking, get feedback from the group and adjust as necessary.

If you are new to the fire and rescue service, you will quickly learn that the only constant that we encounter is change. As the event unfolds we must take the time to listen to those around us and adjust our plan to meet the needs of our subordinates. Communication is a two way street and must be treated as such in order to achieve maximum results in any task set before you. Over the course of the operational period it is necessary to continually get feedback from those to whom you have delegated tasks. As the incident evolves, so must your plan.

If You Mess Up ... Fess Up

Learn from those around you and allow those around you to learn from you. Mistakes are inevitable and will be made at every scene. It is mark of a true leader to share the lessons learned. Take the good and the bad from every incident and share your experiences with those around you. This ensures that we truly grow as a department and prevent the same mistakes in the future. Does your department perform an After Action Review following training and calls?

(This is a multi-part series on leadership.)

Hamm graduated from The Citadel, Class of 2003, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Currently he serves the fi re and rescue service as an Assistant Chief at Station 17, Newberry County Emergency Services and Dive Team Leader for Newberry County Emergency Services. Glenn also services the needs of the fi re service as Owner of Poseidon Fire Rescue Equipment ( Glenn may be contacted via email at [email protected] or by phone at 803-924-7146.
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