Decision Making Considerations

By Richard Marinucci

Throughout the course of any given day, fire service is asked to make decisions. As one ascends through the ranks, the decisions probably affect more people and have a more significant impact on the overall operation of the organization. Many decisions are second nature and are made automatically based on experience, education, and policies. Every so often decisions are made requiring thought and further contemplation. Although emergency scene decisions are time-sensitive—you don’t have much time for research or evaluation—most other decisions offer time to evaluate options.

Being part of government, we often view things from a governmental perspective. This is okay but can lead to bureaucratic decisions that may not always be in the best interests of those being served. We may be conditioned to react based on our “culture” and established policies and procedures. Sometimes this is not always the best way to get something accomplished. I recall former President Ronald Reagan once saying something critical of the government and its spending habits. To paraphrase, he said government was spending money like the proverbial drunken sailor but at least the sailor was spending his own money. What types of decisions would we make if they affected our own resources instead of taxpayer money?

To take this a step further, we could look at decision making as if it was our personal business and affected our own success and service delivery. We could ask ourselves questions regarding the impact it would have if it determined our own bottom line. Would we make the same decision if it was our money or we had to live with the consequences instead of relying on someone else to live with the results? We might look at purchasing, budgeting, and even personnel decisions differently if this were the case. Occasionally I will approach a situation hypothetically and ask someone if the choice he made would be different if it was his personally owned business. Often the answer is that, yes, it would be different. We should get in the habit of making good decisions regardless of who foots the bill, either in dollars or in personnel matters.

Another way to look at things is to consider how one would behave if he was providing service to one of his loved ones. In general, the fire service responds to complete strangers and offers services regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, or anything else. Although this is the overwhelming case, problems occur when someone deviates from the norm and does something different. If every time out the door responders thought they were responding to a loved one, the service would consistently be really good. On occasion, I have asked members if they have a preference for what crew, shift, and so on they would want responding to their call for service if they had a choice. Inevitably they tell me they have their favorites. Looking at it, they select the shift that trains the most and best. If every member viewed it that way and trained accordingly, it wouldn’t matter who was assigned to a call. In a perfect world, every firefighter would prepare for the job as if they would respond to his own emergency.

The last way to look it is how you would behave and act if you had to make the team every year. For those that make their living in professional sports, they have to perform to make the team or they get cut. If you look back on your previous year’s performance, can you say you were a lock to make the team? I am not sure that in my more than 37 years in the service I would be sure every year. If I had those criteria, I would need to make sure that my training was good, my mental status where it needed to be, my physical condition was appropriate for the job duties, and my attitude was supportive of the team and organization. Take an inventory of what you do for your organization on occasion and be candid with your self-appraisal. If you are not sure, recommit to your profession so you consistently provide outstanding service as if your choices would impact your loved ones and your personal bottom line.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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