This is an OP-ED piece to stimulate thought, self-evaluation, and perhaps some discussion.
Right, wrong, always, and never. If you, the reader, and I have had a fire service conversation then you know that I take issue with these words regarding our trade. Preferably, BEST PRACTICES are how we jointly describe the actions we take in all aspects of our day-to-day work. What was great yesterday may not be right for tomorrow. Of course, we never abandoned all – it is a constant process of refinement- CANI (continuous and never-ending improvement).
Always and Never. To this day I remember asking a question of a senior firefighter and his response was “we’ve always done it that way”. Many of you certainly had this experience as well. The answer is terrible in so many ways, but for today’s discussion let us look at this differently. Throughout the course of a day you read, see, hear, and view a variety of opinions on a myriad of topics. In the fire service, a typical response to a picture, video, or training post is “this is how we do it” or “we would never do it that way”. What is the common theme through all of these answers? ALWAYS, NEVER or WE?
Something struck me while reading a comment by a firefighter in regards to a video. “We always go in”. These days many people take offence to the ‘always go in’ part (conversely some presume others ‘always hit it hard from the yard’). Perhaps it is not the going in part we should concern ourselves with, but the WE.
Groupthink – a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints.
Decisions (not implying directives from IC to personnel) often are made without reaching a true consensus and the reasons vary. In the fire service, groupthink has already occurred when statements like the previously mentioned “we’ve always done it that way” surface. Our methodology comes from best practices, within our current frame of reference, and should survive only when we continue to observe favorable outcomes, while refining. What is more important – our people understand why we are doing it this way. Answering the why question helps ensure everyone understands and is capable, but also prevents groupthink mentality; doing it because it is popular within the group not because it is ‘right’. Groupthink also transfers, meaning it permeates through out the organization on down the line. How much of what you do doesn’t make sense to perform anymore? Or at least in the fashion/manner it is being performed. This works in the opposite direction as well. An example is equipment checks. Are they being performed in a fashion conducive with the intent or are they completed because it is a box that needs to be checked? Groupthink molds a belief system which is passed on regardless if it is positive or negative; all dependent upon if it is normalized.
A lot more factors go along with this, and I think it is better for a in-person conversation. My main point and conclusion is this. In the fire service we should not make statements like always and never, there are too many gray areas and times for deviation. At the end of the day those people that are making these statements care less about the always and never, as they truly care about the WE element. When someone sees something or is told something that goes against what WE decided, WE do, or how WE act, they take it personally. Even if that individual wasn’t part of the initial WE that made that decision. WE are a team, WE are staked in tradition, WE are proud of what WE do as an organization. If we are truly to come together as a cohesive group, we all need to be on the same page and have opportunity to voice our concerns to the always and never situations. ‘WE’ is a good thing and we accomplish great things, due to the diversity of knowledge, experience, and team mentality. However, each of us needs to understand that many times it is not ‘us versus them’, it is simply we, and we can do it differently to achieve a result. The type of results achieved is up to you.