Get Your Facts Straight

DSC00043As usual, Dave Statter is hard at work getting us News from the Beltway, where there always seems like something is going on (it’s a happening place).  In this case, crews were on scene preparing to extricate a patient declared deceased when it was determined that the victim was in fact, alive.  While I was not there, nor are all the facts out there for examination yet, it makes for a very graphic illustration of today’s discussion: What facts may seem to be in evidence right now may not always be accurate, thus the need for continual re-evaluation of your situation.

I’m not advocating continual monitoring of the “pre-hospital dead”, although I would hope that this is a good case for the medically affiliated that we need to insure pulslessness and apnea, and confirm asystole in three leads (and print it).  That is called triangulating your facts and documenting them in the hopes things don’t change later (like the person is actually alive).

No, what I want to discuss is that in all kinds of places where we need to make a decision, even though something appears to be true right now, it might not be in a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days.  Conditions change and regardless of the origin of the facts you hold dear, they might not always be accurate facts.  The response to this ever-changing environment isn’t to throw up your hands in frustration (like my children and firefighters seem to do sometimes), but to re-evaluate your situation and to flex with the new conditions.  There’s a quote attributed to Whitey Ford I heard years ago (and of course, I can’t find my source now) and I have to paraphrase it because I don’t remember it exactly: “Don’t make up your mind about something until the moment you absolutely have to; it may be that by the time for coming to a conclusion occurs, the conditions may have changed.”

People who worked with me closely before I made Chief probably recall my frustration with schedule changes, personnel changes, equipment and apparatus changes that occurred over the course of a shift, often with no warning.  Now as a Chief Officer, I have a different perspective on the situation because I now have to step back and look at “the whole forest”.  I now understand how and why some of those “course changes” have come about and I also see why frustration with those changes is counterproductive.

As firefighters, we deal with changing conditions on scene without too much drama.  We know Murphy is a constant companion and if anything, we are surprised if everything goes RIGHT on a scene.  No incident is “textbook”.  But because we are good at our jobs, we flex with the new situation, understand it, and make whatever we have work.  Why we can’t do that in our daily operations, I guess, is my question.

If there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that I know I am not a patient man.  In fact, I’m probably one of the least patient people I know.  I also know I don’t have a lot of tolerance for less-than-excellent performance.  But part of maturing and growing involves experience, and experience shows us that there are many changing elements that occur over the course of a day, and a life, and reacting to them rather than soaking them in and understanding them (and then solving the problem) isn’t productive.  In fact, it is stressful and irritating to those who we have to live with.

I have a lot of personal growth and understanding to continue working toward and I wish some of this stuff would have been shared with me when I was a firefighter and a young officer, but it wasn’t.  I now have that benefit of experience, though, and it is my responsibility to share it with you all.  Take the time to understand the situation and instead of criticizing, find benefit in the lessons we learn and resolve not to let mistakes happen again, or at least in the environment we personally control.

Get facts before making critical decisions and don’t dwell on them too long, because in many cases, the facts will change before you even get a chance to decide on them.  Take decisive action when necessary, and when not, take considered action, and always, always, continue to re-evaluate the situation. By understanding your surroundings, you will be safer and your life richer for it.

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