On Being a Target

By Chris Mc Loone

It’s interesting how as you ascend the career ladder, that target on your back gets bigger and bigger with every new position. There seem to be those in this world who were put here simply to call into question everything we do, assemble roadblocks to everything we want to do, and work to derail everything we do manage to accomplish. It’s the nature of the beast, of course, and as we climb our career ladders we just have to work through it all. It’s a pretty trite phrase these days, but it truly is what it is.

The connection to apparatus and equipment is that these people routinely find themselves on apparatus purchasing committees (APCs). Many times it’s because they’ve been on the last four APCs, so they are kept on for their perspectives. And, many times they are former white coats who may be past their prime. How many of us have had to deal with that one APC member who insists on throwing wrench after wrench into the works? One day it is, “The last time we specified a truck, company A could accommodate this request. Why can’t this company?” Then the chassis is different than all the other chassis in the house, and this causes more consternation and additional wrenches are tossed into the machine.

Some of these individuals are valuable APC members, while others seemingly only seek to serve on the APC to call into question every decision made. Some say this is a good “check and balance” for a committee. If the goal of those doing the checking and balancing is to build the best possible truck based on the needs of the department, then I agree. But, if all they wish to do is denigrate those on the committee and second guess everything, then that’s not checking and balancing. It’s impeding progress.

How do we deal with these people? is the question. In many cases, they are former chiefs who have earned the right for newer members to treat them with respect-if for no other reason than by their saying, “Yes, I volunteer to lead this department as a chief officer,” at one point in their careers. There are fewer of these men and women than we think. And, many of us owe them a debt of gratitude for building our departments into the organizations that many revere in communities around the world. So, taking a dismissive approach isn’t the answer-especially since many can still contribute positively.

It falls on the APC chairman to figure all this out. The chairman of the APC has a monumental responsibility to keep the committee on course. He has the unique responsibility to manage the seasoned veterans along with the younger upstarts who think they have all the answers. Be careful-sometimes they do hold a few answers. These are the members who will be riding what you spec for the department.

Have an agenda for each meeting, assign someone to take minutes, and make sure you develop deliverable action items for APC members at the end of every meeting. At the next meeting, go through the action items and act on them. Then go through the process again according to your agenda for the meeting. There will be disagreement. Don’t let it get heated. Don’t let either side of the table act in a disrespectful manner to the other side. Eventually through it all, you’ll come up with a truck that will be the envy of your surrounding communities-that is, until a neighboring department takes delivery of its newest piece. Again, it is what it is.

Remember that this translates into all other facets of leading an organization. Leadership isn’t easy, especially when you are sitting in a room with a mixture of your mentors and those you are now called on to lead. Subtly reminding the veterans that you are owed the same respect they expect from you and the youngsters in the room isn’t easy and, unfortunately, might take a private meeting to get the idea across. Conversely, explaining to the youngsters why they owe respect to the veterans isn’t always easy-especially when the veterans’ behavior isn’t doing a whole lot to earn them the respect they are after.

More Trouble in D.C.

Last month, the District of Columbia Fire Department (DCFD) experienced more problems with its ambulance fleet. Several ambulances caught fire, with the fires originating in the engine compartments. The DCFD has been struggling in recent months with fleet issues, particularly its ambulance fleet. It wasn’t long ago that an ambulance shut down while transporting a gunshot victim to the hospital. So, the department has had to deal with a spate of bad luck, along with a variety of other issues during the past few years.

If ever there was a need for a leader to step up and take control of the situation, it is now. One top fire official accused the rank and file of contributing to the fires. Accusing firefighters of intentionally putting lives in jeopardy to prove a point is as grotesque an example of leadership as you’ll ever find. And, if it ends up being true, then whoever’s involved is a disgrace to the fire service and all it stands for.

Yes, those targets get bigger and bigger by virtue of your position. However, baseless accusations will do nothing to ingratiate yourself to the troops. If you do a decent job leading, the targets are there for a good reason, and you will be the target of emulation.

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