The fire service is always evolving, but good communication has always been vital to successful operations. It’s important for leaders to be specific in detailed with directions and train personnel to follow instructions to eliminate mistakes in the field.

Blog by Rich Miron of TargetSolutions

Are you communicating effectively with your team? That was the question laid out in January during Michael Daley and Ryan Pennington’s training session at Firehouse World in San Diego.

Daley of Monroe Township (New Jersey) and Pennington of Charleston Fire Department (West Virginia) teamed up to deliver a 90-minute session, Communication between the Front Seat and Jump Street. The topic originated during a casual conversation the two had one evening.

“These kids today, they just don’t understand,” Daley recalled saying. After talking it over, it was determined issues arise because of breakdowns in communication from the front seat, where Daley sits, to jump street, which is Pennington’s area.

It was an interesting topic, considering the theme of the conference: “Changing with the Fire Service.” Times are clearly changing, but communication has always been a critical component to success. Whether it was 50 years ago, 20 years ago, or today, it’s always critical for leaders to set clear expectations.

During the session, Daley conducted an interesting experiment with the room of firefighters. He gave each a piece of paper and asked everyone to follow a series of instructions. After completing the seemingly simple instructions, each firefighter delivered a different result.

“Nobody did anything wrong, you all followed the directions; the point is, everybody follows directions differently,” Daley said. “This is an example that everyone hears directions differently. That’s why we have to get everyone on the same page.”

But how do you do that is the question that leaders sitting in the front seat often struggles with, Daley said.

Here are two key steps leaders can take to improve communication in their organization:

Be More Detailed: If you’re not specific with instruction, there can be confusion that can lead to unexpected outcomes.

Increase Training Using Instructions: Make sure you receive feedback that instructions have been received and understood. “So many communication issues come from lack of training,” Daley said.

Daley outlined key traits of a leader with good communication skills: Stability, integrity, flexibility, sensitivity, and personal power.

“If you’re a leader, when you leave this profession, you’re going to ask yourself, ‘did I do everything I could?’ I want my firefighters to be better and smarter than I am.”

Michael Daley, Monroe Township (New Jersey)

Pennington then presented his perspective from “jump street,” aiming to explain how subordinate firefighters feel communication breakdowns arise. He outlined how critical it is for personnel to support the mission, respect their leaders, and function as a unit.

Good traits of a good follower are self-management, commitment, competence and courage, Pennington said.