How to start a discussion on a topic few may want to admit exists among those who are supposed to have reached the pinnacle of their firefighting career? How does one admit that a man or woman responsible for ensuring that firefighters maintain their balance has, in fact, lost his or her own? How can an audience believe that behind the scripted smiles and carefully placed words is a psyche fatigued and frustrated by the never-ending political games, selfish attitudes, and moral end-around? How is someone supposed to trust a person willing to concede that, if they had to do it all over again, they would never have accepted a position as fire chief?
What started as a cathartic attempt by a senior officer to generate a little conversation about a quiet voice in his head has become a mass confession by fire chiefs that the top spot isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. In fact, several acknowledged that if they knew then what they know now, they would have pumped the brakes long before they took that final oath of responsibility. The following observations were prompted by a pair of recent surveys that were sent to a number of fire chiefs around the nation. These surveys were designed to gauge how much the perceptions of occupying the top spot in a fire department match with the reality of the position. Compounding matters, if a third anonymous poll issued to city managers and department heads is any indication of the truth, the toothy smiles and public compliments directed towards public safety professionals may not be as genuine some may like to believe.
Part of being a disciplined organization is knowing why we exist, what we want to accomplish, and establishing pathways for success. From there, all other aspects of the organization fall into place, if we stay true to our core. This also means that we train to meet our mission. This is not limited to operations. Our entire organization, every division, must be trained in their respective disciplines – and there it is – if we are to effectively achieve our mission, vision and values.
Staying true to our core also means we have to provide service beyond expectations both internally and externally. Understanding that we will fall down from time to time, we have to be disciplined enough to pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off, make necessary course corrections, and move forward striving not to make the same mistake again. This means owning our mistakes and asking for forgiveness when necessary, and/or accepting an apology from someone who has stepped outside our stated core values.
We must be an organization that not only espouses the concept of accountability but actually holds individuals or groups accountable for their actions. If we allow someone to violate policy because it’s “too hard” to hold them accountable, we start down a path of normalizing deviance rather than adhering to our stated core values. Disciplined organizations remain committed to their core. If we use an excessive form of discipline as our first choice rather than offering corrective guidance, we are not a disciplined organization. We need to provide learning experiences as well as opportunities for rebuilding and growth. Now, if after we’ve offered appropriate correction and guidance, the person continues to act in a manner that is not reflective of our core, then shame on them.
Our goal should be to avoid “shotgunning” problems, and deal with issues as individuals or individual items unless there is a substantive reason for making a broad-based change. Let’s take the “Davis Light” for example. Yes, it was “someone” with the last name Davis, I won’t mention Brad’s first name, who removed a compartment door using a block wall while leaving the station responding to a call. The fact of the matter is doors are left open on apparatus all over the country, and engineers drive out of the station leaving a crumpled mass of metal that used to be a door behind. In one instance I’m familiar with the door actually took a structural pillar out and collapsed the roof on top of the truck. Fortunately, the door did not come off the apparatus I digress, the fact of the matter is that a warning light indicating a compartment door is ajar is simply a good idea – that said, we are leaving the name in place…. The “Davis Light” has a nice ring to it.
As an organization we owe it to ourselves, each other and our community to train for discipline within our discipline. We owe it to everyone to be accountable for those things we do and/or don’t do as the case may be. This means that there may be discipline if lesser corrective action hasn’t worked. It’s how we maintain discipline, within our discipline so we will remain disciplined. And, you know what, that’s okay. To err is human as they say. It’s how a person responds, not reacts, to it that reveals their true character.
We are an organization that strives for excellence, not perfection. Perfection, as we’ve discussed before, is not real. Excellence, however, is real and is achievable as long as we train, as long as we treat each other and those we serve with respect, as long as we continue to strive for innovation, and as long as we remain committed to our core as clearly articulated in the Compass. In short, as long as we are disciplined within our discipline we will be successful……. And that folks is why people around the world cite English as the hardest language to learn – we can’t even follow it sometimes.
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