Things get busy for me in the autumn, with our annual Buddy Walk, the holidays, kids' events, and the like. While I really use this blog for just saying what is on my mind, a lot of times in this part of the year, I don't even have time to speak out loud much less commit it to writing. Part of my nature has always been that when challenged, I figure out what needs to be done, I lower my shoulder, and I push it through.
While that kind of mindset is desirable from an offensive lineman or a truckie, as a leader and an officer, sometimes it can be counterintuitive. I definitely believe that our work ethic and our determination is what helps us get to be a leader in the first place, but as a leader we need to also be paying attention to the things going on around us at the same time. There is a careful balance that must be struck between focus and awareness. Sometimes we fall to one side of that balance or another, but we have to be mindful about where we are and get right back on it. While that may not be detrimental for say, getting a research paper done, if you are trying to make a hole on a roof, it could be catastrophic. And if you are a chief officer, it could mean bringing your organization into a path that has unforeseen repercussions.
Yesterday I submitted my resume to be considered for the next Fire Chief, a decision that came with a considerable amount of soul searching. That might sound as if I have doubts, but I think that it is more a product of my understanding the terrain than a lack of confidence in my ability to do the job well.
Ironically, my feelings don't even come from the realization that we exist in a different political environment these days, because we do; or a fear of being the point man in what today's media, social and conventional, finds to be open season; or even in a continually challenging economy with hard decisions to be made about where allocations must be made and wondering how to fund important but unfunded mandates. No, I would say that my biggest concern is that I wonder if our organization, and by association, the whole of emergency services, is ready for my vision of how things will be.
I was listening to a discussion on the recent announcement from Amazon.com about their new partnership with the United States Postal Service, and heard good reasons for the decision. Expectedly, there were those boo-hooing over the unfairness of it all, which I thought to be more crying over the fact that they hadn't thought about it first rather than the actual perception of how level the playing field happened to be. But I digress; the conversation was also covering the humaneness of the "picking" process and I was able to relate it to what we are currently facing.
The short version was that there are those exposing the long hours and tedious work involved as a warehouse picker, or for clarification, the person who searches the warehouse for the backpack you just ordered and gets it into that shipping process for you so you can have it on Monday morning. As the discussion was progressing, I was thinking, "Well, if it is that inhumane, why do we have people doing it at all? Why not just automate it?"
Maybe you are already seeing this bus as it is rounding the corner. If not, I'll spell it out for you. I said this before and I'll repeat what I said:
There will come to be a time when it is cheaper and more effective to have a different way to fight fire than what we are currently doing. And when that time comes, you will be doing something else. Right now, it isn't the case, but when it is, there won't be any debate. You will do a different job.
This isn't doomsday. This is reality. While those of you who continue to cling to the way you THINK we should be doing the job are grousing about how it’s not fun anymore, there are a lot of other people who could care less about how much fun you aren't having. They are wondering why for "x" dollars a year they aren't getting a service that benefits them directly. You can cry about it, you can call me names, and you can stomp your feet, but it doesn't change that reality.
My vision of our business is that we have to find out what the public wants and deliver that service. Yes, this is my strategy, and no, I'm not worried that someone else might hear it and use it in their own interview. I'm not competing for the spot, I'm hoping the best person for the job gets the job, and we have some extraordinarily qualified individuals who are putting in for it. In fact, that would suit me just fine, because like I say often, I don't need to be "The Man", I'd rather be "The Man That 'The Man' Goes To". But that being said, we may THINK we know what the public wants and we may BELIEVE we know what the public wants, but unless we engage them and ask them what they want, we will never really know. So this is a core belief that needs to be pursued.
Honestly, I think the general public is too apathetic to even care. They don't know what they want. If you host an open house, they may or may not even come. But if you aren't seeking those relationships, all of the planning and managing you do is based not on fact but on assumption. And running a multi-million dollar enterprise on assumptions is deadly, just ask any real businessman. If you don't understand what the end mission is, you are doomed for a catastrophic failure.
We can wrap up our departments in pretty bows and hold up the heroic image of firefighters saving children and kittens for only so long before people start to question why things aren't different. And in a lot of communities, those mores are already being challenged. We aren't seen in the same light of our predecessors and for any number of reasons the blame can be laid squarely at our feet. The frat-house mentality, the failure to keep perspective of the economic impact of our service on the community as a whole, the lack of professionalism and competence: all of these are adding up, and our customers – yes, I said customers – are challenging the status quo. They are saying the Emperor has no clothes, and guess what; they aren't entirely wrong.
There's a reason Firehouse Zen isn't the most popular fire service blog on the internet. It's because I tell it to you like it is and hope you are listening. If I put some scantily-clad women on here and images of burning shit, maybe I'd be a go-to site, but instead, I chose to reach out to those of you who choose to make a difference in the global emergency services. If I were making a living writing this blog, I'd be living in my car, so it's good that I have a real job or two. But I'm sharing my ideas with you not because I want to be the one who said "I told you so". I'm sharing them because I want something better for us all; for our service to society to be productive, honorable, and existing for the betterment of our communities.
Making a difference in the world starts at home. Our mission should not involve anything more than making our communities a safer and happier place to work and live in. However that mission is accomplished really depends on your community needs and isn't dictated by what some whacker says it is. This isn't amateur hour and if you really care about what it is we do, you will wake up and create positive change. Put away the "I Fight What You Fear" t-shirt and get the job done.