Fire service professionals appreciate that our trade is built on teamwork. At the foundation of any successful team is a coach. Depending on your staffing levels your coach in the field may be the Chief all the way down to the Company Officer. The informal leader may even be a Senior Firefighter. No matter what rank or title the individual holds, they must take on the role of Coach when responding. This coach must be able to call the plays in accordance with department standards and what they have in front of them. Effective coaches understand how to get the most from each one of the members, which, gets the best outcome.
In my last post I discussed the ways we can improve our members during training. While engaged in with our students or crew, we can lay the ground work for coaching. For the best results use these four steps.
Communicate with the Firefighter. No one can read minds. Even if everyone understands their role within the department structure, an uncomplicated order with a repeat back, ensures all understand the task.
Coach/OIC “Engine 1 grab the plug on 1st Ave and set up for master stream operations.”
Engine 1 “Understand hit plug on 1st and set up for master stream.”
This brings us to the second step, check for understanding. When you receive the repeat back it should be an abbreviated version of the original message. If the repeat back was incorrect or the original message needed repeating, questions should be asked. You as a coach need to ensure the member understand the task or objective. Allow them to ask clarifying questions to ensure they understand what is expected. Of course, the extent of questioning depends on time and the circumstances.
“Take the 24 foot extension ladder and safely carry it to side b, raising it to the second floor.”
For the example above, does the student understand the safe and proper way to carry, position and raise the ladder? The Coach should recognize this and be able to offer advice at a level of the students abilities and understanding. The coach checks for understanding by both questioning and allows for questions.
The third step is the Coaching. Correct the behavior by offering ways to correct them. Allow the student to find solutions on their own. If the student is unable to perform this then take corrective actions. Don't just point out the negatives. Tell the student know what they did right. Too many times when the student is only being told what they did wrong, they tune out. Keep the mistakes to the most substantial, ones that can be corrected immediately or that are unsafe. The other issues can be taken care of later.
The final component is to Contract for proper actions. This is either a formal or informal process. The formal process is a reward system. The student needs to know that proper behavior and proper completion of the task will result in the certificate or qualification. The informal system takes the shape of emotion. Great coaches get the best out the players because the players want to work hard for the coach. We all have had that Instructor or Coach who we were excited to show our progress to. This system creates pride and ownership in the work, not just the piece of paper that shows you finished.
Coaching is not an easy task nor is it for everyone. With a little understanding and self reflection it can become a little easier to do. Use the 4C's of Coaching as a template and you will be on your way. To review, communicate the task/assignment, check they understand the expectations, coach for improved performance and then contract for continued progress or actions.