Listen and Empower
We’re getting close to showtime. FDIC International 2019 is just around the corner and, as usual, we are starting to see news start to trickle in about what new introductions we should expect to see at the show.
One meeting I look forward to every year during the show is with our Editorial Advisory Board. Not only is it nice to see everyone—some of whom I only see once or twice a year beyond FDIC—but it is also great to hear what they have seen as they have traveled around the country. It’s a great way for us to hear what fire departments in all areas of the country are doing with their rigs and their equipment so we can, in turn, present it to you. In many ways, our board members are our eyes and ears around the country. Although I get out on the road a bit during the year, having a network that is out there far more than I am is critically important.
I recently had a chance to meet up with a few of our board members at the FDSOA’s Apparatus Specification and Maintenance Symposium. Robert Tutterow presented, Ricky Riley presented and participated in a panel discussion, and Rich Marinucci is the FDSOA’s executive director. While I was there, I sat in on the panel discussion on fleet management that Riley participated in. At the end of the session, the moderator asked the panelists if they had any words of wisdom. The advice Riley provided I feel is worth sharing.
First, listen. Listen to the personnel who are riding the fire apparatus. We’ve heard this advice many times, but how many of us do it? When it’s a member with only two or three years on the job, do we take their suggestions seriously? The people riding the trucks are the most important people to listen to—no matter how long they’ve been on the job. New members bring a new set of eyes. The crews know the rigs better than anyone else. They know every nuance. I visited a city near me a few years ago to discuss a new pumper order. They also offered to let me see one of their newest tillers as well. I asked the firefighter who showed me around the rig if the crew there liked it. Generally, he said, they liked it, but there were a few areas they would change if they could. Access to the tiller cab was one area and returning to cabs with raised roofs was another. The city had only taken delivery of a few new tillers, with more on the way. They modified the order to accommodate the suggested changes. The department listened to the men and women riding the trucks—the ones who have to use them day in and day out.
The second piece of advice was to empower. Two words that will send any firefighter into orbit—in a good way—are: “Good job.” When a chief, captain, lieutenant, or senior firefighter tells you that you did a good job, it’s one of the highest compliments you can receive. I’ve always found that being given a job or project to complete is up there as well in terms of feeling gratified on the job. It shows that the higher-ups have confidence in you, your judgment, and your ability to complete the task. Empower your firefighters to suggest changes. Ensure that they are in an environment where they feel empowered to evaluate a fire apparatus and speak up about what can be improved. Don’t let the chiefs who ride in SUVs all day dictate what size tank goes on the new rig, or where the preconnects should be, or where tools should be located. Speak up! And if you’re the chief, empower your firefighters to help you make these decisions.
Obviously, Riley was applying this to fire apparatus design and fleet management, but this concept applies to other areas including equipment and the station. It’s not a foreign concept but not one that we always employ. Our younger firefighters these days (younger people in general, when you think about it) aren’t often given enough credit for what they bring to the table. Station features, rig features, personal protective equipment features—these are all areas where the folks living in the stations, riding the rigs, and wearing the turnout gear can help. It will be a give and take—no one can have everything he wants. But listening and empowering your troops will lead to a more pleasant working environment for everyone.