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Organizational Assessment from the Department Head

On a recent trip, I had the opportunity to provide an organizational assessment for a department. Now there are many standards in our industry that must be met and dependant on the level of service delivery, those requirements may vary dramatically.  The one thing that is pretty consistent though, at the most basic level is the foundation of organizational behavior. When you build a beautiful home on a poor foundation, regardless if it is the best house on the block, over time the weakest link in the construction will rear it's ugly head.  No different in the fire service. You see the fire chief can buy as many shiny fire trucks as he wants, or all of the technical rescue equipment in the world, but without a culture that cares about quality training and equipment readiness, the service delivery will certainly faulter.
Assessing an organization's behavior (by using the KISS method) can be as easy as looking at the little things. If the attitude and behavior of an organization is healthy (with a lot of positivity) you will not find a lot of little things seen as "petty" by the membership. They have pride and ownership (Chief Laskey) in their actions and make sure they are at the response ready.  But when you do find that the "little things" are often left unresolved within an organization, it can be a red flag for other issues that may need to be addressed or resolved before someone potentially gets injured or killed in the line of duty.


For example, the small task of replacing the (TP) toilet paper can say a lot in regards to an organization's culture. We all understand that when short cuts happen in this area (though not a life or death situation by any means) it can be an uncomfortable and often embarrassing moment for someone. But when we find this type of mindset in the fire service, it can often point to other areas lacking "operational readiness" that will have a direct correlation to our own  life safety.  I am talking about making sure things are right and tight out on the apparatus floor for EVERY shift.  Are the trucks actually getting checked?  Are the SCBA self-contained breathing apparatus full, clean and ready for the next response? Are your tools and equipment in service and at the ready?  Or as a culture do we play the adapt and overcome mindset with our safety?  By opting to play the blame game with the previous shift, that is not what I would call a good answer to why things were not in the ready or available.


Our job is the protect the public but more importantly protect each other...  they call it a brotherhood for a reason.  When we see this type of behavior, it often falls back to a lack of pride in your workmanship, "Hey your lucky he left you a roll on the shelf man"  But more importantly from an administrator's standpoint  if you do see this issue,  honestly it is time to look at your leadership.  Quality Assurance (QA) is critical for our own well being. For us to be ready to respond in a moment’s notice, and deliver the best possible service available the leadership needs to assure the "little things" do not come back to haunt us.   You can learn a lot about an organization from a simple roll of TP. 


Stay alert, stay attentive and most importantly... stay "battle ready" my friends.  Your training and your mind are what is going to make the difference on the next call.  Billy


The author is a 19 year veteran of the fire service, serving as a volunteer, call and career firefighter with departments throughout New Hampshire. He is a regular contributor to Fire Engineering, multi-year presenter at FDIC, hosts "Tap the Box" on Fire Engineering Talk Radio and owns FETC Services which delivers advanced firefighter and leadership training programs throughout the United States. 


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Comment by Wayne Zeman on July 16, 2013 at 4:50pm
Good point. It rings true for the volunteer houses too. A former Chief of mine was good at getting apparatus and equipment for the department, but horrible at preparing us to use it. His shortcomings showed all the way down to the tp too! Great post!

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