A while back, Chris Naum at TheCompanyOfficer.com discussed briefly the New Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting. This is, of course, a work in progress, but I urge you to read it and understand what these rules mean to us as practitioners. We are called to save lives and fight fires, but to do so safely and responsibly, understanding that our resources are finite (you just can’t keep throwing firefighters into fires until one comes out safely with the victim).
If you search this blog for discussion about leading with values (I even linked the search to make it easy for you), you’ll see that values were specifically mentioned in at least eight articles, not to mention all of the other times values were a peripheral part of the discussion. Like it or not, organizational values define organizational culture. These values help guide you in times when hard decisions must be made under ambiguous situations. When organizations lack defined values, or personnel don’t understand them as the gospel truth, they don’t always reflect those values when challenged. If you have never implicitly discussed your organizational values, your personnel will revert to whatever values conform with those of the group (think “B” Shift) or scarier, their own beliefs (which you have no ability to predict).
While the article by Chris suggests that the Rules should be concise and bulletized in format, it is in that suggestion related to firefighting that I see these “rules” as reflecting our values in considering the risky nature of engaging with a particularly dangerous enemy. I challenge each of you to read more about this and ask yourself, as well as your leaders, questions that help refine what to do in those emergency situations, especially as they involve our own organizations.
While we value the service we provide to our customers as being our highest calling, there comes a defining moment where we must place the welfare of our troops at a higher level, especially when it comes down to fighting a “lost cause”. I am willing to personally take a calculated risk to save lives, but I am NOT willing to take a risk personally, or to expose each of you to a risk for the sake of a body recovery or to fight a structure that will be written off anyway. I am as aggressive as they come when it comes to firefighting, but I value my personnel higher than any property, and I think we all need to think that way about how we choose to engage at these incidents.
But it is in this that the problem is apparent; we have made a decision to discuss our values in regard to emergency operations, but have we defined our organizational values when they come to day-to-day operations? In many departments, the over-arching statement seems to be, “Use common sense and logic when it comes to making decisions”.
While I agree one-hundred percent with that statement (and that approach may very well save your life some day on an emergency scene), when we have recruits (and in that, I’m lumping Juniors, new volunteer members, etc.) making value-based decisions on day-to-day things (like when they are unsupervised or in situations where they are asked to show initiative), have we really done a good job of reinforcing our belief system to them and demonstrating a positive example by living those values ourselves?
Take setting fires, for example. While we (and society) continually insist that firefighters setting fires is wrong, is the culture around your organization such that going to fires and “fighting the red devil” is more important than community service? Is it more apt to say that personnel walk around moping about the loss of call volume? Are members who seek to demonstrate their commitment to the community challenged by the lack of calls to demonstrate that commitment? Why is it that we are in this business, anyway? If the answer is to run around in a uniform and drive fast down the road with lights and sirens on, well, we all know that only represents a finite amount of our jobs (and it’s not like I want someone who thinks that’s a good reason to be an emergency service provider anyway).
While it seems pretty intuitive that setting fires is a bad thing, when you are dealing with people who already have a less-than-mature attitude and a challenge to their belief system, you set yourself up for disaster. If you really want to avoid this type of incident occurring in your organization, one of the basic things that should be done is to engage personnel in activities OTHER than fighting fires/running calls. If you want to find out how committed these personnel are to the community, give them day-to-day assignments that include non-emergency prevention or participation duties- just have them man an engine and go show the flag at the local high school football game, or go spray water for the kids on a hot day. Anything to have them prove their worth OTHER than running hot and exerting their “auth-or-it-tie” (it always loses something unless you hear Cartman saying it).
Organizations who find themselves struggling to recruit or to get people to do their jobs must evaluate if there is a gap between what the leadership defines as valued behavior and what the membership (or potential membership) defines as a valued behavior. If there is a gap, someone had better define the expectations, or the expectation will be that everyone is entitled to define the organizational mission according to his or her own needs. If that is the case, I’d expect to be reading about you on STAT911 or Firegeezer some morning soon, and not in a good way.