EDUCATING TOMORROW’S OFFICERS


Making the change

CarolinaFireJournal - Christopher M. Haley
Christopher M. Haley
10/14/2010 -

Change in the fire service, is never an easy thing. No matter what we are trying to change, it is almost always met with resistance. Being a group that endears tradition, we as firefighters cling to the ways of old, very tightly, sometimes too tightly. A lot of the resistance to changes of the way we do things stems from a long history of failed attempts at changes. Every firefighter will be quick to tell you of the “crazy idea” the chief tried to spring on them overnight, and how it was a good idea that just wasn’t thought through.

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How can we make sure to make the best of every opportunity we find to make progress and effect positive changes in our departments? This article aims to answer that question.

Is the change important?

Every day the fire service faces new challenges, new tactics, new equipment and new people. The common thread in all of these areas is change. Implementing these changes can prove to be very difficult. First and foremost you must look at what it is you are trying to change, and decide, in fact, if making the change is actually worth it. Just like the risk/benefit analysis you perform at an emergency scene, the same can be applied to your decision making process when looking to implement changes. New standards in behavior, equipment, or operations can cause a large amount of civil unrest among the firefighters. You must ensure that what you are looking to accomplish is in the best interest of the department and not just an impulse decision.

What is the objective?

Next, you must clearly define what it is that you are looking to accomplish. Writing this down can prove very beneficial in organizing your thoughts and goals.  At this point you can begin to formulate a plan for implementing your new ideas. Your plan should include a timeline for completion, and any necessary training and familiarization sessions that will be needed to re-enforce your concepts. Incorporating a timeline will afford you a tool for tracking progress over time, and will also serve to measure the effectiveness of your delivery.

This brings us to the implementation of your new plan. This part of the process should prove to be easy, as long as you have invested a considerable amount of energy in a solid plan.

The reception is a different story. Without a doubt any form of change implemented in the fire service will stir a response of mixed emotions. Even if it is something the majority of members wanted, there will always be the standard issue firehouse politics tied to it. However, it is a chief or officer’s response to those reactions which decide if he is a leader or simply someone in a position of authority. Taking the time to hear opinions and take them into real consideration, separates the true leaders. This instills a sense of ownership in the firefighters and ensures that they are stake holders in the department. Taking feedback into consideration bears many fruits, chiefly it is a great way to boost morale, and secondly, it gives the chief or officer a better insight into how well or how poorly the new initiatives are working. It can help illustrate what works, what doesn’t, and may even lead to continued improvement as personnel, tactics and equipment change over time.

Policies and initiatives are not static things, and shouldn’t be treated as such. They, like the Constitution of the United States, are “living documents.” Change and progression doesn’t stop the second the chief clicks print. The initiatives put in place should be reviewed on a regular basis, as well when circumstances dictate a review. This allows policies, directives, and orders to remain current and relevant to the current state of operations. Without regularly updating and reviewing these items departments run the risk of having procedures and policies in place that are no longer pertinent.

For example, policies written for the operation of a piece of equipment that was retired years ago, leave a confused and disorderly state of direction, that will do nothing but undermine the firefighters’ confidence in the leadership and organizational skills of those above them.

There are volumes written on the topics of fire service progression and leadership available, which try to illustrate “Cookie Cutter” methodology for implementing change. However, we all understand that no two departments are alike. The ability to size up the current situation, develop an action plan, implement it, and evaluate it’s progress are a good measure of an officer’s ability to be a leader. Progression and furthered personnel development in the fire service can be summed up in a few words; “The firefighters of today are the officers of tomorrow, act accordingly.”

Chris Haley is a seven year veteran in the fire service in the volunteer and career sectors. He served as a Lt. A state of CT fire Instructor and as a National fire Academy Safety Officer. He can be reached at [email protected].

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