Turtles, Circumstances, and Change

Just this week, not only on our relatively quiet haven of Hilton Head Island, but right here in the community in which I live (Palmetto Dunes), comes a story which has become national news.  Before I knew it would be on CNN and everywhere else, I read in our Island Packet this article on a romantic proposal gone wrong, and the subsequent death of sea turtles.  Now while I never really thought I might read in the same article anywhere, the words “sea turtle”, “romance”, and “death”, you really might be wondering, “What does this have to do with the fire service?”  I can reassure you that it does. 


How it does is that it clearly illustrates the law of unintended circumstances.  I’d be willing to bet you that no one involved in this story desired to kill off 60 turtles and had no idea that their simple luminary tribute to the sanctity of marriage would touch off what ended up on the AP news feed.  But as a result of something they did, or might also be the case in our situation in fire and emergency services, didn’t do, there was heartache, conflict, and even injury and death.


Actions are taken in our fire stations and on emergency scenes on a daily basis that sometimes go badly, and I would venture to guess that 99.9% of actions that resulted in poor outcomes were purely unintentional.  However unintentional these actions (or inactions) are, though, our actions may have wide-ranging impact on our entire organization.  Our actions or inactions may not even be noticed today, or could end up as front page news.  We must constantly be vigilant of the actions we take and how they affect our current situation, and even more importantly, our team, our agency, and our customers.  What may seem insignificant to us may end up costing someone their life later.


Working together as a team, we have to have the courage and the ability to say, “Hey, that doesn’t look right” to our colleagues, and they should also be able to say it to us.  It’s a basic tenet of crew resource management.  Fostering this attitude in your team requires cultural and social change, especially in our traditional paramilitary hierarchy.  Our most important role in this concept is awareness of the things we do and importantly enough, to do things right, as well as to be open to the suggestion from others that we should be doing something differently.


Being in the position of a transformational leader requires more than being right, it requires us to be open to the idea that we might not be.  As part of a team, when we make a mistake, we must strive to understand what occurred and what the results were, so that we and others don’t repeat that mistake.  When we mistakenly lay off blame we don’t really learn from the mistake. 


I had a driver once who had a minor accident with the apparatus we were assigned to.  It was obviously a result of a failure for someone else to do their job.  But he owned that situation and every time he pulled out of the station from then on out, I noticed him looking to insure it never happened again.  It is imperative for us to understand our shortcomings (hey, I have many), own them, and resolve to do better next time. 


I’d say that if that couple ever does decide to re-visit our Island again, they’ll never forget to blow out the candles when leaving the beach.  It’s called a watershed moment,  In our lives, it is one thing, but when we have one of these events occur while operating as part of a team we are tasked with leading, it is a requirement that we critique it, learn from it, and resolve to not let it happen again.

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