Colloquial- used in ordinary or familiar conversation; not formal or literary.Oxford Dictionary, because I like their information, and their commas.
Fire service communication is a very fickle creature. We sometimes appear to share a deep love, or disdain for each other, depending on the moment. I often wonder if we really do want to understand each other, and dialogue? Or do we need the chaotic conversations to hide the underlying anxieties that live within. A week of listening to people at a wonderful conference in Portland has left me with so many racing thoughts. Those thoughts are currently like the moment in a pinball game when you “bonus up”. You are suddenly playing with 3 balls at once, and every light and noise is going off. Please, be patient as I try to use the keyboard to launch these balls toward the shiny, and noisy targets. It has been a minute since I have taken the time to put thoughts to digital format. The time just feels right for this.
I want to remind people that the lessons I share are ones that I have learned on my journey. I am no prophet or prognosticator. I am a man who has lived long enough to find the importance of being calm, above all else. Being calm allows you to the be the best you, that you can be. Asking myself “Are you calm?” is a tool that I often use. It is done 100’s of times in my head, and sometimes out loud. The more I feel the physical indicators that I am not calm, the more likely I will ask myself out loud. My inner ear hears my outer voice. It knows instantly if I am calm.
This allows me to listen, and remain in control, even when the other person is “losing their shit” all over me. I am no saint. I am human, so this process doesn’t always happen. In those moments I apologize, regroup, and reset. I am me. That is enough.
For 20 years I have watched in awe at people who work together, or have travelled a great distance to learn, relentlessly fend off attacks that were never launched. If you have a position on a topic and debate it, you may reach a tipping point. No longer do you hear questions, you hear attacks. A season of defending a belief that is held close can lead to a loss of patience for people. An internal shift occurs. The idea becomes more important than the people who are asking the questions. It is at that moment that something else occurs. A sudden loss of influence. If you are eager, excited, passionate, engaged, and/or concerned, then you have beliefs. Beliefs, and thoughts that pertain to how the job should be done. For the good of all that is close to you, you want your beliefs to be heard, embraced, and included. You want influence. Influence is our currency. Let that settle in for a moment.
Influence- the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.Oxford dictionary.
Now that we have named the currency, let’s talk about how often we chose to lose influence. We tend to dialogue or debate with one person at a time. Our focus is on the other person. If we see value in that other person, and their opinion, we want to retain our level of influence. If we do not, we lose focus, and care less about losing influence. It is easy to say, “who cares?” when you do not value the other person. What about collateral damage? Anyone who hears you speak during that time makes a decision about you. They decide how much influence you have with them. Inside their head is an “influence account”with your professional name on it. That account is your level of influence with them. The people who witness this behavior can leave with a feeling that you are not approachable for questions. Your status changes from Influencer to Unapproachable. Therefore, your behavior is shameful. I am sorry nobody has called you out on it. Please ask your “close group” to hold you accountable. Please stop.
The fire service needs to embrace some basic tenets when having focused conversations surrounding operational expectations.
In discussing a building fire, you must provide context for the conversation. That context is a picture or video of a building fire. I would challenge some to say that simulations are not adequate for discussions regarding building fires, because it is not real fire behavior, it is animated. Use a picture or a video, and keep the conversation focused.
How should your agency deploy at this event? Fire behavior and building construction are universal. Operational expectations are local. A fire in a brick MFD in San Francisco should absolutely not be handled the same as a fire in a brick MFD in Pierce County, WA. The fire service has been on a rocky adventure trying to assimilate the UL FSRI information into local operations.
Indulge me while I provide a frame work. There are basically four arrival scenarios for the American Fire Service.
Take in the information, and ensure your people are educated in it. Stay away from the “one size fits all” campaigns.
If you arrive without a pump, then door control is a big deal.
If you arrive with a pump (less than 4), and cannot hit the fire from the front door, then maybe water in the window works.
If you arrive with a pump and 4 people, an interior flow and move attack is your first move. If that doesn’t fit, then consider a window attack.
If you arrive heavy, then deploy your crews, per your well written SOP, as fast as humanly possible. The information was never intended to delay finding, and removing a citizen in peril.
Avoid the use of logical fallacies. Avoid distracting comments, or playing the “devil’s advocate”, because they are counter-productive by design. Google logical fallacies and bias. We are a mess in this area. You will be surprised how often we use them, how often our bias gets in the way of our words. How often our words get in the way of our message. Try to listen, and understand. Ask if they meant to use a certain word. Feel free to look it up, and show them your understanding. Words matter. We need much focus in this area.
We need to manage the personalities that are in the room. We all know how people are going to behave. We need to shape conversations, and help those who cannot help themselves. Tell people when they routinely interrupt conversations. Then, stop them. That is what help looks like. Nobody enjoys it. Nothing is gained. Allow time to process information. You cannot present an idea and expect operational change in the same meeting. You certainly cannot get mad when that is the outcome of the meeting. Slow down and let your influence work.
Take breaks and take notes. Written thoughts need to become the new “ticket to ride” when it comes to discussions. Those that want to voice words but not convey in written form, with source material cited, need to be encouraged to do so. It has to go to written form at some point. The sooner the better. It is a good habit, and a skill that needs developing. Too many wise minds have retired without committing thoughts to paper. Those thoughts left with them. That is truly sad. Take breaks to keep balanced. Let the room cool off. Avoid the “meeting at the meeting”. The huddles that happen at the break to discuss the topic, as opposed to saving it for the group. If they do happen, please share the information upon reconvening the meeting.
Be respectful to each other, regardless of rank, and tenure. We are an organization with a long history of honor. Be honorable in words that are spoken, and written. Once the excitement of the latest slogan wears thin, the people who serve with you are still there. Our focus is on the citizens and those we serve them with. It is about THEM. To begin to separate who is for THEM, and who is not, is a true form of judgement. It is a process that leads to alienation, and divisiveness. It is far from inclusive.
Above all, own your s***. We are going to blow it. As quick as possible, own it. I can think of many times that I have done what felt so good in the moment, only to create a timeline of work for me. It was never worth it.
Remember this job can get real, real quick.
Pierce County, WA