To begin with, let’s slide over to Dave Statter’s site for this embarrassing moment in Missouri. I have been in plenty of fires where the scene has had incredible damage and I have been to scenes where there is an awful lot of confusion, and while on the face it seems like a thorough search of the structure wasn’t completed, I have literally stepped on a deceased victim before, not realizing they were there because of the surrounding damage, debris, and the condition of the body. I wasn’t there, and my comments actually have to do with successful outcomes.
We all define what completes a job, or any task, I should say, differently. What makes a task complete has to do with your work ethic, your education level, and the amount of feedback you receive from supervisory personnel. When we perform a task that has been assigned to us, what I think is “complete” might be radically different from what you understand as “complete”. While performing a daily task, this might not be of any consequence. However, on the emergency scene, an error or omission might involve a seriously embarrassing (or worse, deadly) incident. Completion of any assigned task requires a series of elements: an objective, material resources, personnel resources, and time, to mention the key items. The clearer the objective, or the more well-defined an objective is, the more likelihood that the objective will be accomplished with the desired outcome.
In a situation like the Missouri incident, while extraordinarily tragic for ALL the parties involved, the discussion lends to the issues of the definition of a successful outcome. While the public has an expectation that NO MATTER WHAT, if someone is in a burned building, that we have all of the ability in the world to find ANYONE, they are sorely mistaken. Again, I don’t have all of the facts here, but I do know that I have been involved in fires where we literally had to sift through debris to find teeth or bones in order to determine (or rule out) the presence of a missing person. Likewise, not expecting to find someone in a bathtub, and with significant structural damage, I could see how someone might get missed.
However, there is a certain amount of thoroughness that we must apply to each job in accordance with the desired outcome. In this case, if there is an expectation that we have a missing individual, if they were reported to be at home, and the evidence is such that there might be a person in the building, then no stone must be left unturned to either find or rule out the presence of the victim. This is on one end of the spectrum; the other end is that we should not unreasonably expect a team to be so thorough that they are tied up for entire shifts working on projects that are of little importance because our expectations are so high and our definition of a successful outcome almost unreachable.
As leaders, we must do our best when assigning work to assess the competency levels of the personnel we are assigning the work to in order to gauge the amount of information we will need to provide. As leaders we must also provide the appropriate resources to get the job done, and even sometimes, we have to run interference for the team so they can get the task accomplished (scheduling, meddling Battalion Chiefs, you know what I mean). But supervising the crew doesn’t just involve telling someone to do something, then expecting some miraculous outcome.
When people are not given adequate tools, direction, or a defined outcome, you can’t expect the outcome to be consistent with your expectations. Too many times I have heard of company officers who are frustrated with the final outcome of something they have assigned, and my first question is, “Was the outcome adequately defined?” Nine times out of ten, that is the problem. I even say that to myself and if something hasn’t been done according to what I expected, I need to realize that I’m only going to get what I asked for in most cases, although some of you all surprise me (in a good way) with your extra effort and the excellent result you produce.
The Missouri incident illustrates that there are significant differences in the understanding of what constitutes a finished job. If there are haphazard approaches to gathering information, we can’t expect to assure the outcome will be as desired. And while successful leaders allow subordinates to learn through independent discovery, independent discovery with a chance of success requires that you at least give them the tools (material, education, personnel, and time) to achieve a positive outcome. Anything less and you shouldn’t be surprised. Insure that as leaders, you set your people up to succeed.