Self Improvement must be driven from within to have an effect. Outside influences may affect one’s ability to improve but for change to last, one must change for them self.
The Fire Service, by our virtue, has a culture to improve. The tools we use to complete emergency scene tasks are an example. Even today, companies modify tools based on issues unique to their first due. Improvement goes well beyond adding a bend or an edge to a hand tool; self-improvement is finding new and better ways to perform our mission of community service.
Without turning this into a retrospective of my time at FDIC, let us quickly evaluate what the conference is. The Fire Department Instructors Conference is an opportunity for Fire Instructors and Trainers to converge on the Training ground and classroom. These sessions teach the students the necessary skills, knowledge and attitudes to complete various fire ground activities. However, the training is not for the students own skill set, but for the department they serve. The intent is to disseminate the latest techniques and advancements to a small, qualified group that aims to pass the information on. The concept is phenomenal. The level of experience that the Lead Instructors have is amazing. The goal of the students in the courses should be to exemplify those instructing. Does this model a Culture of Self Improvement?
Since this is an editorial piece, I must point out that the second half of the weeklong conference certainly has a higher attendance. Is this because of “the show”? Please attend a couple of the classroom sessions if you come down for the show. The level of talent, the variety of courses and opportunity to learn from the best in the business is not to be missed.
How do we define a Culture of Self Improvement? Each one of us, no matter what rank, must have a desire to improve our knowledge, attitude and skill set. Although there may be various degrees of improvement relating to multiple skills, they all have to be measureable. To establish your improvement process, a list of standards, goals and expectations must be set. The organization should have a dynamic, living excellence plan. The plan should be developed and complied by members of all levels. As improvements occur, the plan is re-evaluated to ensure an enhancement upon the current progress is made. From time to time, a deficit may be identified and actions should be taken to correct these behaviors and abilities. All members seek and embrace changes designed to improve organizational objectives. On the management side, this should already be established. Policy and procedures include expectations and the means to meet them. Where the typical plan fails is at the street level. Management must be open to feedback from those who make the SOPS/SOGS live and breathe on the fireground and the firehouse. Most gaps in excellence are identified within this spectrum. What works on paper may not work on the street. From my personal point of view, this is the responsibility of the Company Officer and Training to fill the gap. The Officers should report issues that are found between the written documents and the actions that are taken on scene. Having a plan to evaluate procedures and actual actions may show problems with the rules, the interpretations of those rules or an issue with training. As the old saying goes, “Failure to plan is a plan for failure.”
Do you already have a Culture of Self Improvement? Can you see elements within yourself or your crew? A few significant indicators are:
• Members desire to attend training and seek out additional training.
• Staying current on trends and evaluating your own practices to see if your organization could see the same gap. Using resources like Firefighter Near Miss can enhance your own skills.
• Maintain a low threshold on error/problem identification. When issues arise on the fireground, you take proactive steps to correct them before they escalate. This relates to safety and tactics. Most importantly during training. Do not let things slide. Train to the expectations of the Fireground.
• Company level training. Does your company work on self-identified gaps in excellence? Most of our fireground issues relate directly to our own actions.
Our effectiveness on the fireground has a direct correlation to our willingness to improve. During my career, I have worked with very few people, if any, that did not want to do to a good job. However, there are many who feel they know an adequate amount and how they perform is acceptable. Personally, I have a very difficult time with that mindset. Fire Service Professionals should have a strong desire to continuously raise the bar and consistently improve. This posture includes skills, knowledge, health, fitness and performance.
An all too common practice is the “Armchair Quarterback”. This position has a negative effect on a Culture of Self-Improvement. Surely years ago a crew gathered around the kitchen table and pointed out the flaws of another crew or department. With today’s instantaneous video and ability to sling mud, we need to have more self-control. Use these resources to improve your skills not to bash others actions, especially when you do not have all the facts or understand the circumstances. A recent video showed the misuse of a hose stream into a quality vertical vent opening. Instead of snood remarks from behind your screen-name, use the video to demonstrate why the tactic is not properly applied. That is a trait of a Self-Improving Culture.
Desire, a key element of overall performance, is a personal belief and feeling. Yet, those around you can stoke the fire of desire; the passionate FDIC attendee knows this sensation. Take the lead to create a Culture of Self-Improvement, if you are one that aspires to improve. Culture seems to be a hot topic or even a “buzzword” these days. Regardless of what side of the fence you sit on of the other conversations, culture is an important aspect of the Fire Service. A Culture of Self-Improvement is a culture change we all can agree on.