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Seven Ways to Win in Today’s Fire Service

 

Battalion Chief Bob Atlas is a 20-year fire service veteran who is currently the Interim Assistant Chief of EMS and Training for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District located in Northern California. Atlas is a prodigious adherent of personal growth and lifelong learning, with a mantra of “the minute you stop learning is the moment you start dying.”

Instead of prepping firefighting candidates for a test, he advocates preparing them for a career. Seven Ways to Win in Today’s Fire Service was developed as a personal and moral compass for individuals to always put in their best efforts and strive to be better than they were the day prior. Whether it’s with a combination of all seven tried and true methods or with a focus on just one, it’s important to always move forward every day, he believes. “Excellence is not what you do, but who you are,” said Atlas.

During Firehouse World in San Diego, Atlas presented the Seven Ways to Win in Today’s Fire Service. Here is an overview:

1. Take Control: Generate positive change and avoid negative influences. Communicate your plan to the people around you, build strategic relationships and, most of all, take control of your reputation. When you succeed at taking control, then you have essentially taken control of the outcome.

2. Establish Credibility in the Profession: Avoid developing a sense of complacency. Firefighters by nature are very humble people who don’t toot their own horns, but we can’t be ashamed of sharing who we are and what our values are. We need to develop our own mission statement that describes our values and what we’re committed to. We need to establish public outreach and proactive campaigns and create a delicate balance that shows the public what we do and how we do it.

3. Be a Participant in the Organization’s Success: Be a part of something greater than personal gain and help take an organization to the next level. The key to success is remaining relevant in the fire service and being better today than you were yesterday.

4. Have a Vision: Individuals need to change the way they approach their careers. They need to be lifelong learners and not just be looking to get a job and then kick back. It’s important that they don’t fall into the mindset of thinking that they’ve learned everything once they’re off probation, or that they’ve learned everything they need to know for the remainder of their careers.

5. Master Command and Leadership Skills on and Off the Fire Ground: The question is: Do you have what it takes to lead in different fields? Can you lead in the firehouse? How about a single engine response?

6. Know Your ‘Why’: Your “why” is the thing that makes you get up in the morning and drive to work and push forward in your career. It’s what makes you excited and happy with wanting to continue and to do more for yourself. Life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.

7. Learn How to Fail Forward: We’re so used to failure as something that moves us backward. Failing forward is no different than a boxer who gets up after being knocked down. Champions and successful people figure out how to use failure to drive them to succeed. Failure is not a bad thing but rather it’s a fork in the road that presents you with opportunities. You fail when you quit. You fail when you let everyone pass you by. Learn to respond and be successful in overcoming obstacles. Don’t let it hold you down. Don’t quit.

Atlas summed it all up by challenging entry level firefighters and incumbents alike: “Do your job and do what is right … always!”

 

About the Author

Bob Atlas is the Interim Assistant Chief of EMS and training for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District in California.  He entered the fire service as a Community Fire Aide for the Milpitas Fire Department in 1996 and completed an internship with the South Santa Clara County Fire Protection District and Cal Fire in 1997. Chief Atlas has been married for 25 years to his wife Teresa. They have three children and reside in Brentwood, Calif.

 

 

Empowering Employees to Make the Right Decisions in the Workplace

Building a culture that allows for empowerment takes courage, commitment and vision.

Blog by Peter Dove

Shared Values Associates

My wife, Kathleen, and I recently visited my daughter Haley’s in-laws in Las Vegas. A small, spontaneous poolside party took shape so Haley went with two friends to a neighborhood chain sandwich shop for refreshments.

No one was in the shop except two employees so she went to the clerk and said, “I’d like to order 10 sandwiches to go please.”

The clerk said, “Well, that would be a party order and our policy says we need 24 hours’ notice.”

Haley, a bit puzzled at this stated the obvious; “There is no one in the store or the parking lot for that matter. There are two of you here with no orders to work on, couldn’t you just make the sandwiches”?

“You’d think so,” replied the clerk, “but that would be against our policy.”

She thought about this for a moment and said, “Well I’d like to order three sandwiches for me, would that be within the rules?”

“Certainly” replied the young and well-intentioned clerk. Her friend also ordered three sandwiches as did the third and all slept well that night knowing that the 24-hour party order rule was kept intact.

I wonder if the CEO of the chain would have slept well in his home on the east coast that night if he had known about my daughter’s experience.

Just about all companies these days say they want empowered employees, but there are some rubs.

  • Can they be trusted?
  • Will they comply with policies and procedures and what about the law?
  • What happens if they err?
  • What if they take advantage of the situation?

Empowerment is fine as long as all goes well. What happened to the last brave soul who was empowered and took a risk? The motives for empowerment are laudable: speed to market, customer service, continuous improvement, and actualization of both line and staff functions and the intrinsic motivation that results, which is the durable competitive advantage.

So how do you get people to be empowered and stay that way? It begins with the CEO and senior management framing the question and making a firm and heartfelt decision of yes or no.

Building a culture that allows for empowerment takes courage, commitment and vision because it will be a contest of wills as all change initiatives provoke.

Here is an example of a frame; it might be something like this: The keen internal vision is for all of our people to both feel and be safe in taking appropriate risks for the organization’s sake.  The expectation is for all employees to be proactive in serving the internal and external customers by using their own best judgment. 

Proper framing by the senior team is an imperative and requires much thought and conversation in order to minimize the UC’s (unintended consequences) so go slow here. So, the frame is established, now what?

All organizations have a culture. The question is this; is the culture by default or by design? The sad answer is that the culture is usually one by default. It is important to keep in mind that a corporate culture is organic, that is to say it is something grown. The fruit of the culture can be empowerment or it can be dictatorial control, it depends on the roots.

Space here does not allow for a comprehensive conversation about corporate culture design or empowerment, but here are a few main roots that must be established for empowerment to become possible.

  • Trust
  • Freedom
  • A transaction zone mindset

These three roots can only be established by and through shared values. Empowerment cannot be established by some program, mandate or announcement. One does not “brand” their way to empowerment. Which values must be institutionalized so that trust, freedom and transaction zone thinking can be established?

Empowered employees are often more productive employees.

Research shows there are eight values beyond fair pay and workplace safety that must be shared by all in the organization in order to have the right culture for empowerment. Seventeen million people from 40 countries in 32 industries say this is what they need to be empowered and volunteer their hearts and minds.

The Eight Heroic Values

1. Treat others with uncompromising truth.

2. Lavish trust on your associates.

3. Mentor unselfishly.

4. Be receptive to new ideas regardless of their origin.

5. Take personal risks for the organization’s sake.

6. Give credit where it’s due.

7. Do not touch dishonest dollars.

8. Put the interests of others before our own.

Now, let’s look at the three main roots of trust, freedom and transaction zone thinking in light of shared values. Trust is the foundation of all relationships whether at work or at home.

I’ll take your orders boss, because I’m a good soldier but I won’t take your empowerment if I don’t trust you. Empowerment has to be a win for both the organization and the individual. Faced with making the choice between the right thing and the safe thing, many employees will choose the safe thing just like the clerk in the sandwich shop.

Penguins mass on the edge of the ice to force one of their number into the water to see if a leopard seal may be lurking nearby. Is it safe to risk going into the water where you work? The trust root becomes more possible when the next root is healthy and growing and that root is truth.

Have you ever had a boss that if you were to tell him or her the uncompromising truth, it could have been a career-limiting event? Most of us have. It must be safe for all regardless of station to be able to tell the unvarnished, uncompromising truth. The truth will set you free. Here are some common sense truth guidelines to establish with your people.

  1. Am I discussing the issue with the other person within 24 hours?
  2. Am I asking the other person for permission, “Is this a good time to talk?”
  3. Am I approaching the other person in a non-threatening way?
  4. Is my language simple, polite, understandable, non-apologizing and non-personal?
  5. Am I making a request of the other person and not a complaint? Is my request telling the other person how I would like it to be?

Establishing these two roots of truth and trust take time. Let’s say we have some solid trust established and difficult conversations regularly occur from line to staff and visa versa within agreed, established guidelines. An adult-to-adult environment is being established. So far so good, now for the third root to make empowerment come alive: transaction zone thinking.

Transaction zone thinking is the moment of truth. My daughter asks for 10 sandwiches and the clerk is now in the transaction zone. It’s time for a decision. Do I keep the party rule policy intact and refuse the customer, knowing full well that there is no harm to the company, community or team in making 10 sandwiches or do I seize my freedom?

Do I trust that my choice will be perceived as acting in good faith to honestly please the customer and make the 10 sandwiches? If my decision goes against me is it celebrated as a learning experience or is my freedom eroded? In the end, empowerment is about the employee feeling safe in using their own good judgment and management trusting them and giving them credit for doing so. Your choice is freedom or control.

About the Author

Peter Dove, is president of Shared Values Associates, a firm dedicated to corporate culture design. Learn more about Peter Dove at www.peterdove.com.

 

Fire Department Leadership: Nature vs. Nurture

“Leadership is the art and science of influencing and directing people to accomplish the assigned mission. … Leadership does not equal command, but all commanders should be leaders.”

The Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1, Leadership and Force Development

We all know it when we see it. When we hear the words “leader” or “leadership,” certain people come to mind. Whether it was someone’s steadfast presence on a tense call, or maybe how they mentored a younger firefighter. We all have that sense of relief when we know a certain individual will be leading a scene. I can think of several incidents over the years where it could have gotten squirrely, very quickly, but the ICs on scene used their presence of command, the tone of their voice, their experience, and trust in their crews to beat the odds.

Where did they learn these traits?

Some people believe leaders are born while others are developed. In a recent edition of Fire Engineering Magazine, Bobby Halton discussed this theory of nature vs. nurture and the considerations of being born with a certain set of inclinations and predispositions that are the foundation for leadership.

Halton also discussed the other aspects of developing leaders, through the environments that surround us growing up. If you review the two excerpts above from the U.S. Army and the Air Force, neither statement references born vs. developed. Furthermore, it does not specifically reference rank or seniority as being a leader, but they both reference the power of influence and inspiration to achieve a goal.

In my book, Barn Boss Leadership (under review) we take the stance that leaders are developed through experiences and mentoring by wiser individuals. As we develop throughout our careers, it is the experiences (from incidents and training) that drive us to become better leaders.

It is the job of the veteran to show the way, provide opportunities and lead by example. If you are up and coming – ask for the hard assignments, take on additional responsibilities, and listen to the experience surrounding you. If you are a veteran – give those below you a chance, share your knowledge, and say yes more than no.

Mentoring is key, but it is the responsibility of the up and comer to position themselves to be mentored. This is done by positioning yourself to display your enthusiasm, motivation and desire as a student of the service.

Be safe, train hard and go mentor someone!

About the Author
Brian Ward is the chief of emergency operations for Georgia Pacific in Madison, Ga. He is also the author of Fire Engineering’s “Training Officer’s Toolbox” and the managing editor for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference. Brian serves on the ISFSI Board of Directors and is a member of the Georgia Smoke Divers. He is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Organizational Development from Columbia Southern University and is the founder of www.FireServiceSLT.com. Brian can be contacted at fireserviceslt@yahoo.com.

 

Why Firefighters Should Complete a Thorough Size-Up at Every Fire Incident

Performing a size-up during a dynamically changing event like a structure fire is essential. Information is changing so rapidly that your brain can quickly become overloaded while trying to process and comprehend information.

Blog by Richard B. Gasaway, CFO, EFO, Fire Chief (ret.)
www.samatters.com

During my fireground situational awareness classes, I talk about the process for making high-stress, high-consequence decisions. The first step in this process is initially performing a rapid size-up. When I ask participants how long they take to size-up a single-family residential dwelling fire with no exposures, the answer I get ranges anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds.

Then I challenge the group why they don’t take 5 to 10 minutes to make such a critical, high-risk decision. The answer I most typically get is “Because the building will burn down.” This may be true. From the perspective of brain science, the timeframe is the same, but the explanation is much different.

Performing a rapid size-up during a dynamically changing event like a structure fire is essential. Not because the building will burn down if more time is taken (though, as I noted, that may happen). Rather, it’s because in a dynamic event, the information is changing so rapidly that your brain will quickly become overloaded trying to process and comprehend information.

Think about it this way: If I gave you a sequence of seven random two-digit numbers over the course of a thirty second period of time, and asked you to recall the fifth number in the sequence, you’d probably be able to recall it with ease.

But, if I gave you a list of seven different, random two-digit numbers numbers every 30 seconds over the course of five minutes, and then asked you to remember the 18th number I gave you, your performance would likely be abysmal. Why? Information overload. Under stress, you’ll do better when you process small amounts of information versus large amounts of information over a longer period of time.

Think back to the early decision maker of our species, the cave dweller. Their genetic encoding of how to survive in high-stress, high-consequence environments is the same genetic encoding you have in your DNA. Imagine the cave dweller is out on the daily hunt for food. A predator is fast approaching and it’s game on. The “Fight or Flight” response engages.

The cave dweller is going to have a bunch of clues and cues to process in a compressed amount of time. But there’s really only a handful of clues that are going to be important to survival, perhaps five to seven, but definitely not dozens or hundreds. And while the scene is rapidly unfolding, it’s all going to be over quickly … perhaps in 10 to 30 seconds. The size-up must be rapid and accurate. Sounds a lot like a fireground size-up, doesn’t it? Your genetic engineering is working in your favor when it comes to making an accurate, timely incident scene size-up.

The secondary size-up is as important as the primary. Again, there is a misconception the secondary size-up is to capture what may have been missed in the primary. And while this may have an element of truth, from the perspective of situational awareness, the secondary size-up serves a completely separate, yet critically important role.

The secondary size-up should take considerable more time. Two to three minutes is not out of the realm of possibility. In addition to capturing clues and cues that confirm or refute the intuition of your initial size-up, the secondary size-up is your first opportunity to develop “Level 3 Situational Awareness” and predict future events.

The ability to predict future events is a catastrophically important the skillset for a commander or company officer. To predict where the event is going, and how fast it’s going to get there, you must first understand the SPEED at which the incident is moving. And every dynamic incident scene has a speed.

The secondary size-up, conducted over a minute or two, allows you better assess the speed of the incident, as you watch conditions change over a minute or two. Armed with that information, you can now make reasonable predictions as to whether the resources you have on hand are going to be able to outmaneuver the incident based on it’s speed.

About the Author

Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and the human factors that complicate first responder decision making. In addition to his 30-plus years in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAMatters.com) welcomes 50,000 visitors a month from 156 countries. He can be reached via e-mail at Support@RichGasaway.com.

How Effective Coaching Can Help Employees Thrive

Effective coaching can have a huge impact on the success of an organization.

Blog by Peter Dove

Shared Values Associates

Breakthroughs in innovation come from new thought. Henry Flagler gave John D. Rockefeller invaluable insight that made Standard Oil possible, which in 1879 produced 90 percent of the refined oil in the U.S. Tim Paterson made it possible with his Windows innovation to make Bill Gates one of the richest and influential men in history. Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples had Butch Harmon and Ford had Harry Levinson. Coaching is concerned with innovation, development and the facilitation of new thought. W. Edwards Deming said, “Nothing changes without personal transformation.”

As you see on the International Coach Federation’s website, there are a number of different kinds of coaching within this field; business, internal, leadership, life vision and executive coaching to name a few.  When selecting a coach it makes best sense that the coach be in compliance with the 11 core competencies the ICF has defined as best practice. The ICF is the coaching organization that is recognized worldwide as the standard in this space.

Coaching constitutes an ongoing conversation that empowers a person or team to fully live out their calling – in their life and profession.

For a leader, the chief outcome of executive coaching is to manifest high performing direct reports and then mobilize, lead and guide those people to a keen internal vision. For either the leader or the key person with few or no direct reports, coaching allows for enlightenment followed by action. The idea is for the participant through expert prompting to listen to the inner self in order to develop insight and understanding since most often they do have the answers. Then the participant can take specific action to reshape their life around that learning to, among other important things, facilitate a culture of high performance, which is an essential role of an executive.

Coaching is for those executives who are in ascension, often referred to as “High Potentials.” It is also for solid performers, whom one would like to reward. Coaching is also for those in regression, who are successful in certain aspects of their job but struggle in others.  The coaching relationship is expected to produce insights, greater personal awareness, changed behaviors, actions, and ultimately results that are satisfactory to the participant, their direct reports, and the expectations set by the organization.

Much is expected of the participant in this coaching process. Self-evaluation, reasoning, imagination, making decisions about a new direction, courage to look at and own faults as well as courage to own successes all resulting in significant behavior change toward established goals. The point of this exercise is implementation of new insight and behavior in order to move to the next level. The focus of executive coaching is on the participant – their goals, their learning and their growth. The participant’s accountability is a willingness to learn, change and grow.

Coaching is learning – rather than teaching.

The Participant is the expert on their life. Coaching techniques such as active listening, open questions, encouragement, and best practices management training where needed and challenging the participant are used. The coach is supportive and assists in discovering insights, facilitates change and next steps.

Coaching is action.

There are a number of models but often there are 10 or so one hour sessions, two weeks apart. In a session the participant determines 1-3 actions steps to take before the next session. Progress can be quick. The participant focuses on their life – not just their work. We all know that changing old habits and thought patterns are difficult but necessary for growth. The coach holds the participant accountable to the action steps.

Here are some important distinctions. Coaching is not therapy. Although many of the communication techniques are the same; like active listening, reflecting, use of questions, some advice giving, etc. Therapy focuses on the past to bring healing and unblock a person to move ahead. Coaching is future and action-oriented for healthy people who are fundamentally clear of psychological and emotional issues.

Coaching is not mentoring.

Mentors are experts in a particular field who seek to pass on their expertise to a person. Mentors provide knowledge, advice, guidance, correction, and encouragement. They may use some coaching techniques, but mentors usually play the role of advisor and teacher to guide and impart knowledge and wisdom. While there will be mentoring moments, time with the participant will be largely around coaching.

In coaching the emphasis is not training though training does take place. Coaching is more focused on the participant’s agenda within their scope as an executive. Coaches use adult learning principles of self-discovery and awareness to motivate change from within the participant.

Coaching is not authoritarian.

Picture the tough sports coach who screams and then demands pushups for mistakes. That is not coaching. The coach may push beyond what might be thought reasonable, but should always be supportive. The Participant is in control. The responsibility to decide and act is theirs. Coaching is effective because it brings out the participant’s best. Again, the participant can create their own answers if facilitated properly.

Here is an example of a coaching best practice process.

1. Assessment: First of all the participant must assess if the coach is a good fit for them, it’s their decision. From that point it is best for the participant to take a self-assessment. There are a number of these on the market. I use the Harrison Assessment as well as a multi-rater called the Leadership Impact Survey by Impact Achievement Group (www.impactachievement.com), so the participant can receive feedback from their workplace as to their management/contribution acumen. As with a map, in order to get to point B one must assess where they are, that is: point A. Prescription before diagnosis is called malpractice. Assessments provide essential additional data used to flesh out what areas specifically the participant may want to develop in order to go to the next level.

2. Outcomes: Based upon assessments and conversation the participant and their boss decide what outcomes make best sense to pursue always with the focus on creating a work environment that facilitates insight and high performing direct reports. Sustained high performance necessitates a high trust culture.

3. Awareness: In order to grow, change and become more it is necessary to increase self-awareness and this is another key role of the coach; to facilitate awareness.

4. Action Plan: Faith without works is dead. Commitment to sustained action is necessary if any progress is to be made. This is a process and will be one of trial and error at times because the territory for the participant will often be new.

5. Delivery: Finally, through this process lasting change will be achieved. The hope is breakthrough and a new door opened such that the participant wins big as do others in the culture. The coach ought to report to the sponsor (boss) during and after the process as to progress while maintaining confidentiality.

6. Re-assess: Now it is time to re-assess, measure progress, reflect on lessons learned and consider any next steps.

Why use a coach? The reasons people want coaching are many and as unique as the person. Here are just 20 examples that motivate people to use a coach.

1. Making significant change

2. Career path planning

3. Developing the team and improving the culture

4. Dealing with problem employees

5. Having difficult conversations

6. Holding others accountable

7. Asserting self

8. Dealing with uncertainty

9. Making better decisions

10. Setting better goals and reaching them faster

11. Dealing with fear and gaining perspective

12. Facilitation of high performing direct reports

13. Getting organized

14. Having someone to talk to

15. Improving relationships on and off the job

16. Having peace of mind

17. Dealing with set backs

18. Being more influential and learning management best practices

19. Building collaboration

20. Simply being a better executive and leader

To bring this home, circle three that stands out to you. The coaching relationship is exciting, filled with little and big breakthroughs and allows for a life of continued success, joy and fulfillment.

About the Author

Peter Dove, is president of Shared Values Associates, a firm dedicated to corporate culture design. Learn more about Peter Dove at www.peterdove.com.

 

 

Why Firefighters Should Remember Every Building Is in the Process of Falling Down

Firefighters can increase their safety by being prepared for potential structural collapses and understanding how to make predictions on how buildings will behave under fire conditions.

Blog by Richard B. Gasaway, CFO, EFO, Fire Chief (ret.)
www.samatters.com

When responding to a building on fire, does it make sense for firefighters to just assume the building is in the process of falling down? Is that a realistic expectation?

You bet it is!

You don’t have to study Newton’s law of universal gravitation to understand gravity is pushing down on the earth at all times with constant force. This means, in essence, gravity is trying to make every building fall down, including the one you are sitting in right now.

The only thing holding the building up against the force of gravity is the components of construction. Pretty simple stuff, right? The components of construction will work, as designed, for so long as they are not acted upon by an outside force (there’s a little Newtonian physics language for our scientific readers).

For the sake of this discussion, that outside force is heat. Heat degrades the ability of the building’s components to stand up to gravity. At some point, unless action is taken to stop the degradation, the components of construction will lose out to gravity and the building will fall down.

Let’s tie all of this in to situational awareness. The first level of situational awareness is perception – being aware of building construction and fire conditions. The second level of situational awareness is comprehension – being aware how the former is being impacted by the latter. The third level of situational awareness is projection – being able to make accurate predictions about how soon a building is going to lose its battle with gravity.

If you look at every building on fire as if it is in the process of falling down, it can change your entire perspective about your safety. As you conduct your size up, consider the components used to make the building. This takes some training and some knowledge of building construction. There are many different types of construction and each have benefits and detriments, most of which are a factor of strength and cost of materials.

Dwellings made with lightweight construction are going to lose their battle with gravity much sooner than dwellings with legacy construction. Buildings with fire suppression systems and fire resistive construction are going to fare better than those without.

The important point I want to make in this article is about your mindset. Be of the mindset that heat is degrading the component of construction and the building you are working in is being pushed to the ground by gravity. There may be little to no warning to indicate when gravity is going to win the battle.

I’m reminded of an experiment one of my kids did for school in which they built a toothpick structure and then loaded weight on top of it incrementally until it collapsed. Until that last unit of weight was added there was no warning signs of impending collapse. But when the final unit of weight was added, the entire structure came smashing down. There was no warning whatsoever. And while we were expecting it – in fact, we were trying to create it – we were still surprised with the speed it happened.

Here are several firefighter training items to discuss:

1. Discuss the training you have received on building construction and how those lessons apply to being prepared for potential structural collapse.

2. Discuss how you can improve your safety by making reasonable predictions of how buildings will behave under fire conditions.

3. Discuss what you can do to ensure you will not be inside a structure fire when gravity wins and the building (or some portion of the building) falls down.

About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and the human factors that complicate first responder decision making. In addition to his 30-plus years in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAMatters.com) welcomes 50,000 visitors a month from 156 countries. He can be reached via e-mail at Support@RichGasaway.com.

The Challenge of Dealing with Excessive Amounts of Radio Traffic During Emergencies

Deciphering information is challenging for first responders during emergencies. Mistakes are often made during radio-transmitted mayday calls.

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, CFO, EFO, Fire Chief (ret.)
www.samatters.com

When you are listening to an audible message, be that face-to-face, over the telephone, or over the radio, your brain processes audible messages into visual images. Essentially, the message comes into the ears via sound waves.

The sound waves are transformed into electrical impulses in the auditory control center of your brain. Then the messages are sent on to the visual control center to be processed into visual imagery.

Imagine you are talking to someone on the telephone about their recent vacation. In that conversation they vividly describe pristine blue water and beautiful white beaches. Your brain processes the audible message and sends it on to the visual processing center where you formulate images of beautiful blue waters and white, sandy beaches.

Visual Processor Overload

Problems with communications can occur when you are exposed to too much. Your brain can get overloaded. When that occurs, bad things can happen. Think of your visual processor working like the processor on your computer. Your brain and your computer, in reality, don’t work anything alike, but let’s go with it for a moment. When your computer processor reaches its capacity, it slows down. Then, it freezes up. If you’re on a PC, you get to see the hourglass on your screen. If you’re on a Mac, you get the gyrating psychedelic spinning wheel.

While the processor is at capacity, there is nothing you can do but wait. If you’re typing a document when the processor reaches capacity, the keyboard stops working. You can bang on it all you want, but your processor is at capacity. Anything you try to enter at that point will not process.

Let’s apply this example to your brain. Your visual processing center, like your computer, also has limitations. When those limits are reached, it stops accepting new information. Your ears are still working fine. So is your audible processing center. But the visual center is overloaded. When that happens, you get the proverbial cognitive hourglass (or spinning psychedelic wheel). Nothing else is getting in until the current load is cleared.

When there is a lot of radio traffic, it is easy for your visual processing center to get overloaded because there is so much information coming in. Unfortunately, unlike written information, there’s no shortcut to processing audible information. If you look at a written document, you can visually scan it and get right to the heart of what you want to know. Not so with audible information. You have to listen to it all. THEN, and only then, can you determine what was important and what was not. But it still requires the full attention of your visual processor to make that determination.

Too Much Radio Traffic

Excessive amounts of radio traffic can inhibit your ability to process information. Which information do you listen to and which do you discard? Unfortunately, your brain is not that good at deciphering and prioritizing. It’s a common misconception that a first responder will hear the critical radio traffic because the “stressed voices” of those who are in trouble will alert the listener. Seems plausible … until you evaluate how many times radio-transmitted maydays are missed the first time they are called.

About the Author

Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and the human factors that complicate first responder decision making. In addition to his 30-plus year career in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAMatters.com) welcomes 50,000 visitors a month from 156 countries. He can be reached via e-mail at Support@RichGasaway.com.

The Importance of Behavior Modeling in the Fire Service

This blog on behavior modeling in the fire service previews information on how to influence your crew provided in the Training Officer’s Desk Reference.

Blog by Brian Ward
Chief of Emergency Operations with Georgia Pacific (Madison, Ga.) and Managing Editor of the Training Officer’s Desk Reference

One of the items discussed in the Training Officer’s Desk Reference is mentoring. Regardless of rank, we all have the ability to mentor. As Lt. General Hal Moore states in “We Were Soldiers,” “learn the job above you and teach your job to those below you.”

When you understand how you influence those around you, you begin to understand how important you are to the success of your crew.

One story I tell is from my time working in Gwinnett County Station 4 as a driver/engineer. These were the days of my acceptance into the Georgia Smoke Diver Program and competing in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenges.

My cohort, retired Ironman and driver/engineer Alan Hurd, would set up obstacle courses with fire department stuff, gear up, and drill as a daily routine. At first it was just me and him making up stuff to do. After time – without forcing, mandating or threatening anyone – we had 90 percent of the station, including the lieutenant, captain and probie firefighters training with us.

Two things occurred during this time: Behavior modeling and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both of these are learning and motivational theories at work in this one example.

Behavior Modeling: We have all been affected by this in one manner or another, whether we realize it or not. The theory states we will model ourselves after the environment we are placed. So, if I see someone performing at a high-level, and I recognize it as excellence, I will model myself after that behavior.

However, if I see you sleeping on the couch on truck day, and you get away with it, I might model myself after that behavior. As a senior firefighter or officer, a gut check is for you to determine how you are being perceived.

Once the introspection is complete, you can move forward and raise the bar for the minimum expectations of your crew. If I told the guys at my station to gear up without gearing up first, it would not have been as effective, and no behavior modeling would occur. However, the others saw leadership’s actions and wanted to participate.

If there was a day I did not feel like competing, it was the other guys motivating me. So, it worked both ways. They became as important to me as I was to them.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: This theory simply states that what we perceive to be reality becomes reality. So if I perceive excellence as completing the obstacle course every day in turnout gear, then that is what I will conform to because I want to be excellent with gear acclimation, dexterity, etc.

Case in point, if a probie was assigned to our station, they would automatically conform because they knew no other way. They had never been influenced by a different behavior.

As senior firefighters, company officers, or training officers – we have the chance to define excellence and the minimum standard. When you do this several things occur: Teamwork, comradery, improved knowledge and skills. It also creates a level of motivation and buy-in, regardless of generational differences.

By setting this example, you are mentoring those around you and establishing the next generation of the fire service. As experience moves on every day in the fire service, we need people to take the reins and lead us into the next phase.

As always, be safe, train hard, and take care.

About the Author
Brian Ward is the chief of emergency operations for Georgia Pacific in Madison, Ga. He is also the author of Fire Engineering’s “Training Officer’s Toolbox” and the managing editor for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference. Brian serves on the ISFSI Board of Directors and is a member of the Georgia Smoke Divers. He is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Organizational Development from Columbia Southern University and is the founder of www.FireServiceSLT.com. Brian can be contacted at fireserviceslt@yahoo.com.

 

Situational Awareness Is a Trainable Skill for Firefighters

This is the eighth tip from TargetSolutions’ special report, “Eight Great Tips for Training Your Crew,” a best practices guide. To view the entire report, please click here.

The past may predict the future, but that doesn’t mean firefighters can grow complacent. That’s dangerous. By instilling a culture of safety, personnel will have the right mindset. But how do you instill this culture? It may take time, but it’s possible through communication and training.

The first step is for leaders to promote safety from the top down. They need to make sure situational awareness is more than just words by walking the talk. Achieving successful outcomes during emergencies and remaining safe depends on an individual’s ability to interpret their environment through situational awareness. Simply put, firefighters need to be trained on what could go wrong.

Here are three critical areas to consider when creating a safety culture at your department:

360-Degree Size Ups: Make sure personnel know how to thoroughly conduct a 360-degree size-up during a fire. Make sure your department has a policy for the first arriving department to always conduct a size up. You would be surprised how many departments don’t demand this basic safety measure. The information gathered is critical to everyone’s safety. And during training, build a 360-degree size-up into every evolution.

Train for Safety: You have to crawl before you can walk and run. This is true for firefighter training as well. Making sure everyone has mastered basic movements of exercises before moving to advanced levels is critical to safety and effectiveness on the fireground. And just like anything else, firefighters get better with practice – so train your muscles by practicing proper techniques.

Put Your Life First: Yes, firefighters have taken an oath to protect their communities. But they need to make sure they don’t throw their life away in the process. As we all know, firefighting is an extremely dangerous job. But it can be performed with caution and sensibility. It’s important to know your own limitations. A building is replaceable. But lives are not replaceable. Too many firefighter deaths were preventable. It’s critical we understand what “no-go” conditions look like (building composition, smoke and fire conditions, etc.) and use caution.

 

 

 

Terrorism Awareness 101: Training Firefighters to Identify Terrorism and Respond Effectively

Ofer Lichtman of Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department (Calif.) is an expert on numerous subjects impacting the fire service including Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC) and terrorism awareness. A few months ago, Lichtman provided a comprehensive interview on TECC and is back now to answer more questions on terrorism awareness.

 

 

Why is it important for firefighters to go through terrorism awareness training? What is the goal of the training program?
It is important for firefighters to go through terrorism awareness training because our profession in the last 15 years has changed dramatically. To be truly an all-risk fire department we must be prepared to handle all situations, and in this case adequately prepare our personnel to recognize terrorism activity and be a part of the solution, not the problem. Firefighters are in a unique position in our community where we already maintain a high degree of situational awareness. This allows us to identify things that appear suspicious in a geographical area we already know best. In this day and age it is negligent for professional firefighters to not be able to recognize and respond to terror activities in their communities. If we are an all-risk fire department, then we better be when that time comes.

The goal is to educate and train firefighter personnel to identify indicators of terrorism and respond and mitigate terrorism acts in our communities. We have a Terrorism Liaison Officer (TLO) program which takes a fire department’s sworn employee, who serves as a conduit for information between firefighters, local law enforcement and to the federal government. The TLO’s will report tips and leads from the floor personnel to the Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC) and will communicate back to the department and keep our staff and fire fighters aware of current threats facing our community or region.

How often do firefighters go through the terrorism awareness program? What are the different aspects of the program?
We train our personnel on an annual basis. We update them on all different trends that can affect our local region. Each of our personnel is trained initially once they are hired and then annually thereafter. The annual training is to update personnel on current trends going on in the area and region. Curriculum consists of domestic terrorism, international terrorism and single issue terrorist groups. We also focus on activity shown through home grown terrorism as well as lone wolf activity. Different aspects of the program consist of prevention level and the response/mitigation model. The firefighters are put through educational as well as active, hands-on training. The hands-on training happens multiple times a year in order to prepare for any type of terrorist act. It is important to understand that our terrorism training and education is based on suspicious activity. It is not based on a certain group of people, culture or religion, but solely on activity that is suspicious.

Is this training required for all fire and EMS officials?
Yes, this training is mandatory for all firefighter personnel including refresher training. We are even employing basic awareness training for all city employees to learn about suspicious terrorism activity, what to do if you find yourself in a terrorist attack and how to treat yourself or co-worker from a preventable death injury involving hemorrhage control.

What are some of the most important aspects of the terrorism awareness program?
The most important aspect is to remember that as a professional fire department we must always remain vigilant and have a very high level of situational awareness. America is at war with different ideologies of people who want to hurt us and don’t agree with our way of life. The only way to increase our chance to prevent another 9/11 is to be vigilant and aware. When a small community has a disaster on a global scale it doesn’t seem as catastrophic, but if a small community loses a dozen people in a terrorist attack, that is very impactful for that community. It could happen anywhere, not just big cities. There is not just one specific profile of a terrorist. It could be anyone that has that ideology and will want to hurt us.

Do you lecture on this topic? If so, when will your next lecture be?
Yes, I do. I will be at the next C-TECC meeting in San Marcos, Texas hosted by the ALERRT Conference on Nov. 1, 2015. I will also be at the 2016 EMS Today Conference in Baltimore on Feb. 25, where you will hear about the rescue task force model as well as ICS for the rescue task force.  

About the Author:
Ofer Lichtman started out as a first responder in Israel and is currently the Terrorism Liaison Officer Coordinator for Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department (Calif.). Lichtman was instrumental in developing its Terrorism and Tactical Response Program. Lichtman is a member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and is on the advisory board of the C-TECC.

About the Department:
The Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department (Calif.) has had a TLO program since 2009. They have fully adopted the TLO curriculum and all the Joint Regional Intelligence Center’s recommendations for a TLO program. The department has a liaison to the FBI’s joint terrorism task force in the area and is a point of contact for multiple agencies in their county regarding terrorism activity reporting.

– Bio and photo of Ofer Lichtman are courtesy of Firehouse.com