In January of 2006, I was deployed with one other officer from pour department to Hancock County Mississippi to manage the planning section of the emergency operations center (EOC) for ten days. Although Hurricane Katrina had made landfall four months earlier on August 29, 2014, Hancock County was so severely damaged that the EOC was still operating out of necessity. Certainly volumes could be written on the damage Katrina inflicted on Hancock County, this is more about the Planning section of the EOC. Two days into deployment there, we were asked to develop a 30/60/90 day plan to present to the Emergency Manager before we left.
For those of you unfamiliar with this term, as I was in 2006, A 30/60/90 day plan simply provides a timeline and breakdown of actions and objectives that should be achieved within 90 days. It is a fluid plan, and flexible enough to be altered as needed.
For Hancock County I needed to provide objectives that should be reached within 90 days. These areas included;
These are only the highlights of what the report included. For the plan to be useful, I visited almost all of the places mentioned above, met with FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers, County ambulance personnel, and the county sheriff.
In the end the plan turned out well and the Emergency Manage felt he had a better idea of what to expect within 90 days. I am sure at the end of the first 30 days, he had another 30/60/90 day plan developed.
What can this type of plan do for you in your current capacity? It can be adapted to any process. If you are just starting budget preparation, do a quick 30/60/90 day plan to put your objectives on paper that others in the organization can follow and they will also know what needs to be done by when and by whom. If you have a big event in your community, you can use this plan along with the Incident Command System to make your event go as smooth as possible.
I have used this concept on a job interview. After researching the community and the department, I developed a 30/60/90 day plan to graphically show what my plans would be for the first 90 days. This usually makes an impression on the interviewer and you will also leave a good first impression.
You don’t have to be the chief to use this tool. Anyone can use it to set goals and objectives. And it can be altered to fit changes as needed. Give it a try if you haven’t already used one.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
Many of you may have recalled an article I wrote earlier last year about the Fire Asylum training. Well some great news has occurred this week, The Fire Asylum Movie was released on Amazon. If you really want to understand more about this unique training, you really should watch the movie!
Fire Asylum Chief Marty Mayes, his crew of instructors, and the students in the class take you on a compelling adventure into The Fire Asylum. You get to see the student’s journey through this unique training as they share personal stories of their lives in and out of the fire service. By the time you finish this documentary, you feel a very personal connection with these students and are truly committed to The Fire Asylum.
The movie is available on for purchase for $9.99 and rent for $4.99 on Amazon. Just click on the movie poster to be directed to purchase. One more awesome thing about this movie is that all proceeds from the movie will go to help pay for students to attend this training or substantially recused the cost of the training. The more people who purchase the low costs there will be for future students!
Below is the movie trailer for the film. Check it out!!
As leaders, we should constantly monitor our organizations morale and make adjustments as necessary. What are some of the steps, policies, mannerisms, or lead by example tips we as leaders can do to help build and maintain morale?
It is always important to look professional. Personnel should not be showing up at emergency scenes with shirts that are torn, without names, patches missing or other unacceptable issues. Once I made lieutenant, I started taking my shirts to the dry cleaners so I always had clean and pressed shirts on. There were times when less than 15 minutes into a shift we responded to a fire and my shirt would get soaked and dirty. After returning to quarters and showering, I always had a clean and pressed shirt to change into. Can this be done 100% of the time? Probably not. But if you make the effort others (including your crew) will notice. And then there is the pants. I have seen the navy blue pants that have been washed so many times that they are a light blue. Make sure your replacement program includes inspections and recommendations for new uniforms when necessary. Just as important to looking professional is to act professional. It’s ok to cut up once in a while at the station. I think that’s one way we stay sane in this business. However, when there is company in the station, from family and public to other officials, it is that time we need to be the professionals we always claim we are. Act professional and be professional in the station and out in the public whether at an emergency scene, public education program, or some other venue. As the Company Officer, make sure your crew looks and acts the part. As the leader, you should always emphasize that we are here to do whatever the public wants whenever they want it. It is never an inconvenience, it is our job.
Building Your Team
It is important for the company officer to build morale within the station. I have been at some stations where there is always one or two guys who want to be alone all the time. They bring their own food eat alone, watch television alone, and stay away from group conversation. It is hard for the company officer to bring these people into the group, but it is always worth trying. Make sure everyone trains together, meet in the morning to discuss the activities for the day or the latest news and weather and try to find something that these guys and gals have in common with everyone else. It takes time and you have to keep these activities up, eventually most of these loners will become part of the group and you will have your team. Remember to be nice, be positive, be friendly, and be a friend. Not everyone has the best days every day at the firehouse.
Build Company Pride
I was a lieutenant when the movie Backdraft came out. Immediately many of us wanted to have our own company logo and flag for our apparatus. At the time, top officials would not allow it. We still designed our own t shirts with our own mascot and wore them at night. It was a start and a source of pride for those of us at that station. Now all the stations have their own mascot and flags for the apparatus. In today’s world many stations have their own Facebook page, Twitter account or Instagram (or all of them). If you decide to go this route, ensure it is in line with your department and or city policies on these types of social media. In some areas it is still not allowed. If you do use these make sure you as the leader monitor the site and ensure the postings are appropriate. Once a year a week before Fire Prevention week, we have a department wide open house at all stations and invite the public in to see their stations and fire apparatus. In most cases this will be the only opportunity for the citizens to see a fire truck up close. And the adults like getting in the seats as much as the kids. As the firefighters are giving tours they show their pride in their job and their knowledge and the citizens will see that we do more than sit around all day. This is always important as it builds trust between the fire department and the citizens. These types of events always bring the personnel closer together.
Lead by Example
As the leader of an organization, you have to always have a positive attitude. If you are in this position, you learned a long time ago to leave any other issues at the front door. If you sense the morale is low in your organization, then the best way to start building morale is to show up; at the station, emergency scenes, public education, and other venues. Congratulate the new dads or moms and acknowledge any off duty accomplishments. Someone once said that your employees don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show them that you do care. Lead by example. Ask questions to really understand why morale is low. If you get some suggestions, implement those you can and acknowledge whose idea it was. Everyone likes a pat on the back once in a while. As a leader, whether a company officer or the chief, you can’t fix morale problems just like that. But we always have to keep trying. That’s what we get paid for, to never give up and never stop trying.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
In January of this year, a family of six died in a fire in a relatively new home (built in 2005). Investigation showed it was electrical in nature and a dry Christmas tree contributed to the fast building and spreading fire. All six were determined to have died from smoke inhalation. There were smoke alarms in the house and no indication they did not work. The home was built four years before the county began requiring sprinkler systems in new homes.
In 2011 there were 386,000 residential fires; these caused 3,005 civilian fire deaths, 17,500 civilian fire injuries, and $11.7billion in property damage. And this was an average year. Studies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s United States Fire Administration indicate that the installation of residential fire sprinkler systems could have saved thousands of lives; prevented a large portion of those injuries; and eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in property losses.
To date, there are no reported deaths in any single family residence that has a sprinkler system installed.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) study found that homes equipped with smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system experienced 100-percent fewer civilian fatalities and 57-percent fewer civilian injuries than homes equipped with only smoke alarms.
In a home with sprinklers the average property loss per fire is cut by about 70% (compared to fires where sprinklers are not present). The cost of installing home fire sprinklers averages $1.35 per sprinklered square foot.
The question is, why are residential fire sprinklers not required in all cities, or all states? Opposition starts with home builders associations who complain that the cost is too high (have you priced a house lately, it is all too high), sprinklers are unsightly, they go off accidentally, they cause unnecessary damage when they are activated, and my favorite, there just aren’t that many fires in homes. Tell that to the family of six and all the others who perish because there are too many excuses.
Seven years ago at a statewide fire marshals meeting, the then president of the fire chiefs association stated that in the next legislative session that association was going to lobby the legislature hard for residential sprinklers in all new one and two family homes. The fire marshals never heard anything and seven years later there still is no law.
But it has to start there. The fire chiefs associations (local, state and national) have to push hard for this kind of legislation. The international firefighters should be on board also. The fire marshals associations can push hard for the chiefs to do the right thing, but, it’s still up to the chiefs. If all else fails, each municipality can enact requirements for sprinklers in their city or county, much like Anne Arundel County did, albeit too late for that family of six.
For a list of States with home fire sprinkler requirements;
For a list of States that prohibit Anti-sprinkler legislation:
One more fact. If the fire is out on arrival due to a residential fire sprinkler, how much risk remains for the firefighter?
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
Recently there was an article in the local newspaper regarding harassment charges brought forward by several women that work for a local and large, fire department. Some of those charges included the fact that there were not separate sleeping arrangements for men and women at a majority of the stations. The department I worked for has had women for over 35 years and while the going was rough at first, we now have dormitories with separate sleeping cubicles at all of the stations. There are no doors, only curtains, but I think you can see the increased privacy for each person.
When the first female was hired on my department, sliding locks were installed on the bathroom doors and on the dormitory doors. If individuals used the bathroom, shower, or the dorm for changing, the door was to be locked. All personnel were to adhere to this policy. Yes, we made some mistakes at first. In any new endeavor there are sure to be some. We learned from them, corrected them, made adjustments where necessary, and budgeted for station changes to accommodate the females we were hiring. When a station was refurbished, or a new one built, sleeping cubicles that included space for lockers were included in the original design. In some stations only the dorm was restructured to give all personnel a sleeping cubicle. But it worked and it did take time. More importantly, it took a commitment from fire administration with the city administrations support to accomplish this task.
We continued to have education on harassment of any kind and the city has a zero tolerance policy to address issues that may arise. Okay, here is where I come clean. Since the beginning of time, if there are male and females working in the same environment, things are going to happen between them regardless of the policies. No one can stop it, but we as leaders can address it. We must make it known that this type of behavior, if uncovered (no pun) is not tolerated and then if something is brought to our attention, we have to deal with it appropriately. In any case, if there are any harassment charges, we as leaders must respect the person or persons bringing the charges forward. In the article I spoke of earlier, the mayor actually stated that he didn’t believe there were any problems on the fire department and there are always going to be whiners in any job. So, if you are a female and work for that department and believe you are being harassed then the mayor has already labeled you as a whiner and complainer if you bring those issues forward. How likely is anyone to speak out with that kind of attitude at the top? It is unfortunate that we still elect and appoint leaders who would fit better in the 1950’s than in today’s world.
While the mayor doesn’t believe there are any problems, he is making dollars available to address the sleeping quarters issue. Something the last three fire chiefs should have fought for many times. Do we as leaders need a wakeup call like a newspaper expose to force us to make changes? I hope this is an isolated incident. I believe women are as important to the fire service as men. We just ignored them for too long. They work just as hard, pass the same tests, get the same education, and are as intelligent as the next guy. Why wouldn’t we want them on the job and respect their needs?
As I said before, it all starts at the top.
Stay Safe, Everyone Goes Home
Recently a neighboring department had a fire that involved 2 structures. The department called for mutual aid from 2 neighboring departments and together made a great stop with no one getting hurt. Later, after the situation was mitigated the Chief used social media to express how proud he was of the team for their aggressive stop. Well as happens many times on the internet it lead to a discussion about why must we be aggressive…..aggressive gets people hurt…….its irresponsible to risk firefighter lives. It led me to consider is being aggressive reckless? In a time when we fight fewer structure fires and have faster burning buildings is it wrong to be aggressive?
As I delved into this topic I feel like we must first understand the meanings of “aggressive” and “reckless”. The Webster Meriam Dictionary defines Aggressive as:
1a: tending toward or exhibiting aggression
b: marked by combative readiness
2a: marked by obtrusive energy and self-assertiveness rude, aggressive personality
b: marked by driving forceful energy or initiative : ENTERPRISING an aggressive salesman
Webster also defines reckless as:
1: marked by lack of proper caution : careless of consequences
2: IRRESPONSIBLE reckless charges
Notice these two words are not synonyms, neither word is in the definition of the other. They in fact have no where near the same meaning.
So can we be aggressive without being reckless? First what is an aggressive fire department? In my mind an aggressive department is a culture. The upper level command staff has empowered line officers to be decisive, supports their decisions, and provides them the training to make sound decisions. This “aggressive” department trains their firefighters from day one to be prepared. they spend time on topics like building construction, fire flow path, pump operations, scene size-up, and understanding engine and truck company ops. You won’t hear phases like ” That won’t happen here” ……” I took that class years ago”….. or my personal favorite” We’ve done it this way for 25 years.” They are always striving for perfection knowing its unattainable. When these firefighters pull up on scene he come off the truck, dressed out, tool in hand, ready to go to work. The officer makes a size-up, The engine guys stretch the line to the door, the truck company prepares for the search and ventilation. Decisions are made and everyone is working off the same sheet of music. How many time have you been on a scene that was like a grade school band concert? You know what I mean, yeah, all the kids are playing their instrument and the notes on the sheet but the timing is off and it doesn’t sound right. Well, an aggressive department works and trains so the timing is right and everyone knows their job and when it needs to be done.
What is a reckless department? I don’t think there are many intentionally reckless departments out there. I think most departments are well intentioned. I do feel like a department that doesn’t spend time on the previously mentioned topics may end up making reckless decisions. Without understanding building construction or flow path how can IC make the determination whether and interior offensive attack is appropriate, whether to send a vent crew to the roof, or are there tenable spaces for potential victims. Not having skilled firefighters who are well trained and having set procedures regardless of conditions is reckless, not having well trained officers is reckless, having to wait for Chief, Assistant Chief, or Battalion Chief to start identifying strategic objectives is reckless. I was standing with a group of firefighters one afternoon at an event. A longtime firefighter whom had been an officer was telling me of an incident where they rolled the engine with himself, a 6 month probie, and a guy who was issued gear 3 days earlier. They arrived on scene and made an interior, offensive attack. When I asked why his response was that that’s the way they fight fire and you need to be aggressive with your attack…….That’s not aggressive, its RECKLESS!
I will go to battle with an aggressive firefighter who comes off the truck, tools ready and is smart enough to recognize potential hazard. A passive, unconfident firefighter make me nervous. Many time we see a professional athlete injured when the outcome has been decided and the effort is not where it should be. I want my crew to be giving 100% effort 100% of the time. I want them to be knowledgeable, physically fit, and confident. I want them to be AGGRESSIVE.
35 years ago, my department had very little to do with Public Education. There was a Prevention Division, but no real accountability on what businesses got inspected or how often. It was not uncommon to have a business go for seven or more years without a visit from an inspector. In the early 1980’s, a Public Education Program was started. First a traveling puppet show to educate children on fire safety practices, and later, involvement with engine companies that assisted the Pub Ed personnel and even did some education on their own. It was a start.
Very soon after we started a Smoke Alarm program and gave away and installed thousands of them. Ten years later we wanted to start over but had no real record of where the first ones were installed. Now, 30 years later, we still do not have a smoke alarm in every residence. And even today you can find officers and firefighters who believe we should only roll out of the station for alarms (And of course for groceries).
So what happened? We started out like gangbusters and after many years it just faded away. There are several reasons.
First, it starts at the top. The fire chief has to have a vision regarding public education and he has to convey that to personnel every chance he gets. He has to live it. And it does wonders to actually show up at some events or education programs. Second, whenever there was a budget cut to be made, the first positions the chief usually looks at is the civilians in Public Education. I have heard this over and over at seminars and at National Fire Academy classes. See #1, it starts at the top. Leaders today have to get creative. Find the money elsewhere, for example, does the department really need all of those secretaries, do we really need all of those reserve vehicles, can overtime be trimmed, can the cost for supplies be trimmed, and how about using three firefighters on a 40 hour workweek whose job it is to do public education. And in between, they could still be available for calls.
Third, apply for grants. Especially now it might pay to hire a part time person to just write grants and probably get most of their salary paid for with a grant. Prevention supplies, safety props and safety trailers can all be purchased with grant money. Fourth, have a real Public Information Officer. Some departments have one but they only report on an event if they are available or something happens when they are on duty. There are so many outlets to publish articles sand photos and these garner valuable support for the department. Other people will not know what your department is doing if you don’t tell them. Other people include the Mayor, City Council, news media, other fire departments, and other internal departments.
I started a newsletter that was published once a week that included only four or five fire or rescue events that occurred in the week prior. This was sent to all other internal department heads, Mayor and council, other departments, and all of the fire stations. After just a few short weeks, if we missed one, council members called to see what happened. This was free to produce, no grant money, just some typing. And now there are two other departments in the county that are doing the same thing.
It doesn’t take much to get the prevention ball rolling. But it does start at the top. Where do you as a leader stand on the issue? Or are you still sitting waiting for the next alarm? Smokey says “Only you can prevent forest fires”. Modern thinking adds, “Only you as a leader can turn the opinion tide around and get the fire prevention/public education ball rolling”.
Stay safe. Everyone goes home.
Trust. Only a five letter word, yet it carries so much weight.
When we leave home in our own vehicle for work or travel, we automatically are trusting of the other drivers on the highway. On a two-lane road we trust that the driver coming towards us will stay in his lane. On a larger highway or interstate, we trust that the other drivers that we pass or the ones passing us, will stay in their lane and not pull into our lane. Of course in both instances it certainly is not blind trust. We watch the other guy for signs that he can’t be trusted. But for the most part, other drivers get our OK.
When we take our vehicle in for servicing, we trust that when they bring our vehicle back everything they say they did, they actually did. Sure, I check under the hood just to be sure, not that I know what I’m looking for. But it makes me feel good. For the most part, I trust the guy to do his job.
Yes, we place our trust in strangers’ every day, expecting that others will do what we expect them to, just as we are doing what they expect.
Why then is it so hard for many leaders to trust those that work for us. People that we know far better than the driver that is going the other way, someone we likely will never see again. A division chief told me he trusted those that worked for him. In the next sentence he explained how he had GPS devices installed in all of his divisions’ cars. Trust? It just went out the window. Of course any department head will tell you that these devices help to track mileage and shortest routes, all in the name of saving money. Now don’t laugh. This is what leaders are supposed to tell their personnel to get their buy in. I have found that in many cases, those that work for us know a lot more than we do. They can read too, and reason, and understand and they know when someone doesn’t trust them, just as we do.
So do you as a leader have the trust of your subordinates? It can only happen if you really trust them. How can you tell? I find that when personnel that work for me trust me, either as a Company officer or as a Fire Chief, they will open up to me, share family stories, come to me with problems, share ideas about a better department, and really act like you’re not just a boss, but a friend too.
Trust encompasses other things such as honesty and integrity. Be honest with your personnel, all of them. Show others that you have the integrity that your rank demands.
Be a leader of value, practice what you preach, never make promises you know you can’t keep, and whatever you do, don’t say one thing and do another.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home.
Motivation can be defined as a term used to explain behavior. Motivation drives people’s actions, desires, and needs. A motive is what prompts the person to act in a certain way, or have a tendency to exhibit a specific behavior. So, how can we, as leaders, motivate our people? Here are two schools of thought.
One, the leader will manage to get their personnel to do the things they want by motivating them to do it. President Eisenhower stated, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”Eisenhower was right about the leadership part. But that is also motivation as described above.
For those of us who are faced with the prospect of motivating out personnel, usually on a daily basis, I subscribe to the idea that we cannot motivate anyone. What we as leaders can do is tocreate an environment where our personnel see the benefits of a program or process to the organization and make up their minds to get the job done. That, I think, more closely mirrors what Eisenhower said. But how do we do it?
Recently at a theme park while we were walking down Main Street, the strong aroma of fresh baked goods hit us in the face like a tidal wave. Without a second thought we were in the bakery looking at all the food we shouldn’t be eating. I noticed what appeared to be a manager type standing to one side, greeting people and making pleasant conversation. I asked her how they manage to get the smells of all those baked goods out onto the street with the doors closed. Simple, was the answer. The store has huge fans that blow the smells from the oven area out onto the street. After that, we just wait for the aroma to do its job. Simple and effective. No one suggested to people on the street to enter the store, no signs directing anyone, they just use one of the human senses to convince people to go in. They created an environment in which those of us on the street let our nose lead us into the bakery.
Sounds simple but it’s not always that easy, which is why Eisenhower said that it is an art. How do you get your people motivated?
I have found that if you create an atmosphere where personnel are rewarded and recognized for the work they do, if you show them their ideas are valued and they are respected, if you take an interest in their personal lives, if you as the leader take responsibility for mistakes that are made, and if you create programs that let them show off their talents, then you will have a created what I call a motivational environment. You will find that it is easier to get programs moving because personnel will see the benefit to the organization that they feel they are a valuable part of. In the end, you will find that you actually can get others to do what you want because they want to, not because you told them to.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
“Leadership is the privilege to have the responsibility to direct the actions of others in carrying out the purposes of the organization, at varying levels of authority and with accountability for both successful and failed endeavors”. What leader made this statement? It sounds modern and something right out of current leadership books. Actually, the statement is from Attila the Hun.
Attila the Hun was a barbaric tyrant, whose armies ruthlessly destroyed the beautiful countryside while on their way to plunder and pillage numerous cities and villages inhabited by the more civilized people of European nations. However, even the most dreadful of people, if they are the leader of a group, use certain leadership principles that can form an effective base on which to build other skills important to success.
It has been said that to lead, one must simply have followers. When Attila became Chieftain, he was faced with a number of disorganized tribes that he forged into one nation of Huns. This was not accomplished simply because he was the chief. Attila’s leadership was inspiring, he was a great listener and communicator, and he had a vision. Leadership principles that are sound, reasonable, and proven will work for anyone who has the skill to use them properly.
Attila knew the leadership qualities that were necessary for the success of his organization. They included;
It is no coincidence or surprise that a leader like Attila would expect the same qualities in his time that are expected of a leader of a successful organization today. Even as King, Attila was forward thinking enough to realize that even his decisions would not be accepted by everyone. Leaders today should expect no less. However, like Attila, successful leaders press on with the self confidence that their plan will succeed. Self-confidence begins with a desire to lead, a want-to-be-in-charge attitude. For leaders to be successful this self-confidence must be evident to the organization around them.
As a leader, you must have a passion to succeed. This passion must be obvious (Lead by Example) to your subordinates and is the quality that effective leaders use to inspire employees to want to accomplish bigger and better things, to seek results that make the organization a success. Effective leaders exhibit by their actions the standards the people within the organization are expected to uphold. Leaders establish the morale, integrity, and sense of justice of their subordinate leaders by their own actions. Attila recognized the fact that he was not the only leader in his organization. However, he expected his subordinate leaders and the entire organization to perform at the highest level and to abide by the standards he set and exhibited.
The people of the organization are important to the success and longevity of the organization. Attila realized this early in his career and expected his subordinate leaders to hold the same belief. Attila realized that providing small tokens of appreciation would result in a more dedicated and committed army of followers.
And finally, Attila had a vision for his people. He was able to effectively communicate this vision to his organization by setting the example for expected standards, by his actions as a warrior, and by his ethical positions in regards to the importance of the tribe. Attila ensured everyone in his organization knew the history of the Huns, their survivability, their warrior skills, and the long line of ancestors. His vision included the past and built on that to create a vision of the future. With this vision, Attila was able to energize his people to accomplish great things.
Attila was able to accomplish many things during his tenure as leader of the Huns. He brought numerous separate tribes together and formed one nation. He ruled with an iron hand but was well known for his fairness. He involved his subordinates in creating the plans for the future. Attila possessed many of the qualities that effective leaders of today possess. These qualities are tools for any leader to use to keep their organization on the road to success.
If you have a formal book review group or policy, this one is a good source for leaders at any rank.
Remember, Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home