Out of My Mind

Rich Marinucci ponders how we know all the actions taken are really working.

By Richard Marinucci

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, state governors have had the authority to make decisions as to what their approach would be to minimize the risk of contracting the disease. Not every state acted the same way. Yet, every governor said they were taking action to “save lives.”

It reminded me of an old story I heard years ago. It seems there was a man on a street corner just snapping his fingers and idling the time away. There was not supposed to be any loitering, so a police officer asked him what he was doing. He stated he was keeping the elephants away. The officer said there were not any elephant anywhere nearby. The man then said his actions must be working pretty well!!

It’s sort of like fire prevention—if there are not a lot of fires, it must be working due to the prevention efforts. How do we know all the actions taken are really working? If we keep good statistics, we can show improvement over time.

Even still, one could argue that not every department commits the same level of resources to fire prevention and there is not always a difference in outcomes. So, if a department does inspections annually, delivers public fire safety programs, etc., and cannot demonstrate any difference with a similar organization, how is the expense justified?

Now I should clarify that I 100% support fire prevention. I know it works, even if my evidence is only anecdotal. But when times get tough, often fire prevention programs are the first to be cut. If there is no significant uptick in emergencies, this could make it difficult to reinstate when times get better.

Unfortunately, most fire prevention programs are the result of bad events. When those incidents do not occur, what is the incentive for communities to spend the money? A great challenge for everyone in the fire service is to continue to seek ways to justify and support fire prevention activities.

I would submit that there are departments that are more effective in promoting fire prevention programs and they have lessons that can be shared by those looking for more successes in this area. Maybe we should copy the governors and keep repeating that “we are saving lives.” Seems to work for all of them, regardless of the actions they took.

I can’t remember where I saw this or where I read it, but recently I heard someone state that you can’t force leadership, nor can you force people to be leaders. There has been much written about leadership and many training and education programs offered to help people develop their skills in this area.

If you compare these first two sentences, they appear to be contradictory. But, like everything, the essence probably lies somewhere in between. We can probably identify folks in our organization who ended up in a position that required leadership and it just wasn’t in the DNA of the individual.

Sometimes the promotional systems in place put individuals in a rank that is slightly above their level of competence. Some refer to this as the “Peter Principle” and use it in a derogatory fashion. But it really implies that often a level of competence in one’s current job means that they can easily transition to higher responsibilities. It may also be related to situational leadership. Some can do well on the scene of an emergency but not as well off of it.

Promotion should not be automatic and should be based upon the job expectations and requirements, not performance in a previous rank that doesn’t have the same expectations. As an example, assume someone is a really good college football player. Should we then automatically “promote” them to the professional ranks because of their success at a lower level of competition? This is a rhetorical question. Yet, isn’t that similar logic to what we do in most of the fire service. He is a great firefighter so that automatically means he will be a great officer.

When we do this, we are forcing leadership and forcing people to be leaders when they may not have the necessary skills. Sometimes training and education helps and actually develops the individual. In other cases, it is like putting perfume on a pig.

Unfortunately, when organizations have people in leadership positions that don’t have the ability, the entire organization suffers—often for many years.

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