Sunday, July 14, 2013

Organizational Assessment from the Department Head

On a recent trip, I had the opportunity to provide an organizational assessment for a department. Now there are many standards in our industry that must be met and dependant on the level of service delivery, those requirements may vary dramatically. The one thing that is pretty consistent though, at the most basic level is the foundation of organizational behavior. When you build a beautiful home on a poor foundation, regardless if it is the best house on the block, over time the weakest link in the construction will rear it's ugly head. No different in the fire service. You see the fire chief can buy as many shiny fire trucks as he wants, or all of the techinical rescue equipment in the world, but without a culture that cares about quality training and equipment readiness, the service delivery will certainly faulter. Assessing an organization's behavior (by using the KISS method) can be as easy as looking at the little things. If the attitude and behavior of an organization is healthy (with a lot of positivity) you will not find a lot of little things seen as "petty" by the membership. They have pride and ownership (Chief Laskey) in their actions and make sure they are at the response ready. But when you do find that "little things" are often left unresolved within an organization, it can be a red flag for other issues that may need to be addressed or resolved before someone potentially gets injured or killed in the line of duty.
For example, the small task of replacing the (TP) toilet paper can say a lot in regards to an organization's culture. We all understand that when short cuts happen in this area (though not a life or death situation by any means) it can be an uncomfortable and often embarrassing moment for someone. But when we find this type of mindset in the fire service, it can often point to other areas lacking "operational readiness" that will have a direct correlation to our own life safety. I am talking about making sure things are right and tight out on the apparatus floor for EVERY shift. Are the trucks actually getting checked? Are the SCBA self-contained breathing apparatus full, clean and ready for the next response? Are your tools and equipment in service and at the ready? Or as a culture do we play the adapt and overcome mindset with our safety? By opting to play the blame game with the previous shift, is not what I would call a good answer to why things were not in the ready or available. Our job is the protect the public but more importantly protect each other... they call it a brotherhood for a reason. When we see this type of behavior, it often falls back to a lack of pride in your workmanship, "Hey your lucky he left you a roll on the shelf man" But more importantly from an administrator's standpoint if you do see this issue, honestly it is time to look at your leadership. Quality Assurance (QA) is critical for our own well being. For us to be ready to respond in a moment’s notice, and deliver the best possible service available the leadership needs to assure the "little things" do not come back to haunt us. You can learn a lot about an organization from a simple roll of TP. Stay Alert, Stay Attentive and most importantly... Stay Battle Ready my friends. Lt. Billy Greenwood; FETC Services

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The New Fire Officer - "Getting Up To Speed"

The fire service can move at lightning fast speed one minute and other times the clock can move at a turtle’s pace. This constant change in working environments can be a draw to many who join the fire service to begin with. We must remember though, the public expects us to keep pace with the demands they put upon us. When a firefighter finally decides to make that commitment to become an officer within an organization, that leap at times can seem like it is mentally impossible. The complexity of stepping out from the job as you know it after many years of feeling secure in your position can add to the mental challenge. The thought of now being the supervisor instead of one of the brothers, can equally add to the stress of a new fire officer’s plate. The challenge is how do we get the new officer up the speed with their responsibilities without overwhelming not only their confidence but with the credibility of their crew as well? Years ago, before I was in the fire service I used to professionally race motorcycles as a privateer. I clearly remember my first experiences at the Daytona International Speedway. Being from the northeast and gaining most of my racing experience from little old Loudon… the complexity of "Getting Up to Speed" at a superspeedway was not easy. You see on the front stretch of Loudon we would tap out at about 120 miles per hour for a brief moment, before braking hard for turn one. The first time I ever rode at Daytona it was mentally overwhelming. The front and back stretch of the superspeedway was "full throttle" for what seemed like an eternity. After the first practice session, I thought to myself some of these guys must need a wheel barrel to tote their manhood around. You see running a 250cc GP grand prix motorcycle wide open for long distances on Daytona's 33 degree banking would equate to 166 mph on the radar gun. Upon coming off the track for the first time, my wife (then girlfriend) said to me looks good except you need to stay on that throttle for about another football field longer... The mental challenge I faced with no superspeedway experience was how to get my thought processing and decision making skills up to these new speeds. It was quickly pointed out that I was covering the length of a football field about every second (252’ per second to be exact) In light of these facts, the term predicting the future had a new meaning to me. In between practice sessions, my then Daytona savvy mechanic told me those factory supported riders were faster because of their previous years of experience at Daytona. Thus breaking down the mental challenge, it was quickly acknowledged that we needed more time to not only set-up the bike, but I needed additional “seat time” to get accustomed to the speeds faced in the new setting. In the end, we were able to bridge the gap with an extra focus on additional seat time and tuning our equipment to get the bike into the top 10. The process of getting the new fire officer up to speed in my opinion is no different. The position has many new responsibilities, delivered in a new setting, going to battle leading a company making life or death decisions with little to no discretionary time. The success or failure of the new officer should not fall solely on the shoulders of the new officer but the organization should be big part of the equation as well. "Training to Failure” is a term I coined when instructors allow students to use their current level of training and/or experience to go through an evolution and figure it out on their own. There is usually alot of trial and error in these scenarios. Sometimes they succeed but more often than not they fail. Sometimes they learn from their mistakes but often do not because they lose confidence in their ability to obtain the end goal. But in today's hostile working fire environment, that mindset can injure and kill good people fairly quickly. So to avoid the "Training to Failure" mindset with the new fire officer, we should not pin them and allow them to figure it out on their own. Clear expectations must be established and delivered to all parties involved. It is expected that the candidate must study for the written promotional exam for example. Without investing in solid study time the candidate will likely not run with the lead pack. But how many times have you heard an organization say to a firefighter early in his or her career, “preparation for a promotion” starts today…. long before the process is ever posted. Gaining as much experience as possible from real world incidents and the fireground in general is the responsibility of everyone involved. Some fire departments who have a positive and successful mentoring program in place will fund additional education to brothers who are striving for greater professional development. This is where we come in and provide specifically designed professional development programs as requested like our popular"Personality Based Effective Communications" seminar or our newest class titled "The Art of Dealing with Negativity" . These are just a few that we offer to take professional development to the next level. It is understandable that many fire departments can't afford development programs in these tough economic times. Therefore those opportunities are not as common as they used to be in earlier well funded times. Realistically though, many organizations do not need to develop and fund an expensive in-house training academy to establish a good, professional development program. Most fire departments have what they need already. For example, mentoring starts on the floor... the next time you have a fire alarm activation, have the current officer mentor his or her firefighters to maximize their experience level. Once they have determined that the incident is under control and companies have been placed in-service/on scene, have the company train on the facilities fire alarm system, have them review any pre-engineered fire protection systems in place, and/or tour the facility for the layout and any known hazards? Better yet, how about a quick 10 minute "curbside" after action debrief post incident right there before taking up? Same goes for the administrative side of the job, time management, assigning daily and weekly maintenance, scheduling and delivering company training, and post incident NFIRS report writing, etc. This is just a few examples of a "zero cost" mentoring process I am suggesting for in-house programs. Now to provide the potentially new officers with greater command / control experience, short money buys the department an investment in a command / control simulator package. In theory, using this new software affords the officer the luxury of burning down every target hazard in your community while loss of property or life occurs. I purchased a nice software package at FDIC (about 3 years ago) and you can easily add-in outside stressors to make the virtual training more realistic. One example for company officer training that we provide, is viewing the simulations from the right front seat. We regularly use this training technique to provide a more realistic environment for the new company officer with his or her initial arrival and size-up reports. Projecting the video on the bay wall from the apparatus roof, while a crew is seated inside the apparatus provides background stressors. The dynamics of making decisions at speed, providing a quality size up report over the radio while firefighters are asking for what line do you want to take Loo, etc. goes a long way in preparation for the real deal. As the saying goes, "As the first line goes... so does the fire" In our FETC officer development class titled “Gaining the Leadership Edge”, we spotlight the on-the-job mentoring process as just one way to prepare the next generation of fire service leaders with little or no impact on your annual budget. Now for the reader who's organization does not offer a mentoring program as described, do not fret, may I suggest taking on the challenge yourself. Select a person you look up to in this business, everyone needs a good mentor, speak with him or her about your desire to gain professional growth for future promotion. In the end, your personal commitment in concert with a solid and trusted mentor should better align you for the possibility of future promotion. That way when you are asked, “Why do you feel you better than the other candidates in this promotional process?” The answer should flow easily off of your tongue, with I have committed myself to coming to work each day and preparing to be the next professional leader of this department. Regardless of whether we are preparing a line officer, staff officer or chief officer, how does anyone expect the candidate to hit the ground running if they were not afforded the opportunity to be mentored and brought up to speed for their new role and responsibilities. Most of that should be done before they assume the position… Billy Greenwood is the owner of FETC Services and the host of the Fire Engineering Radio Show called, "Tap the Box" Check out more from FETC Services at the following: or FaceBook:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thermal Imager - A Tool for the Modern Firefighter

The research and purchase of a thermal imager is not a simple task and is definitely one that should not be taxed upon a single person within your fire department. Whether purchasing a camera through an acquired grant, hard earned fundraiser money or taxpayer's cash from the capital improvement program, the costs associated with this purchase justifies creating a small TIC committee. The committee should steer the process of research, contacting manufacturer representatives and scheduling camera demos for hands-on evaluation. I would also recommend acquiring as much literature as possible on each brand, assigning a committee member to research each product thoroughly before contacting the manufacturer representative. It means once a product demo has been scheduled, the committee will be educated on that specific product and can maximize the demo time with the representative. Once the demonstration is completed, always inquire if the demo camera can be left, so your membership can further review and evaluate the product without time constraints. The committee as a whole should have basic knowledge of how a thermal imager works and understand the different technologies available to us from the industry. Not all TICs are designed the same. For instance, your committee should understand that infrared energy seen by a thermal camera will be focused onto a focal plane array (FPA). The electronics that are connected to the FPA will create what some fire service instructors describe as "the engine." This engine senses energy, calculates the relative differences between objects and then prepares that data for your eyes to view on the display screen. There are three common types of engine technology used in fire service thermal imagers, the first being BST (Barium Strontium Titanate) technology. BST technology is the most common and is known for its past performance within the fire service. The next is VOx (Vanadium Oxide) technology, which is just one type of microbolometer. VOx microbolometers are now very popular in the fire service for their good quality image. The newest technology afforded to us is amorphous silicon (aSi), which is also another type of microbolometer and is well known for its compact size and relatively low cost to the end user. Remember, with each of these different types of technologies you may find advantages to your specific organizational needs as well as a wide difference in the costs associated with each internal technology. When charging a TIC committee to evaluate the potential purchase of a new camera, I suggest they focus on 10 key features to create a solid product evaluation. In my experience, firefighters may at times get hooked on the latest “bells and whistles” that a manufacturer has recently developed. While these can be nice to have, they may be seldom used in the field. Keep the committee focused on buying the right product for your department's specific needs by concentrating on: 1. Size and weight 2 Ease of use, body ergonomics 3 Battery life 4. Ruggedness – Durability – Field proven 5. Display screen: size, resolution, color, advanced options 6. Temperature Reading Sensor vs. Pyrometer 7. Upgradeability 8. Apparatus mountable, apparatus charging capabilities 9. Cost 10. Warranty. Besides the purchasing of the camera itself, there's another important aspect to consider – training your firefighters how to actually use it. Let's think about opening our mindset to not only focus on how many of these cameras we can purchase for (X) amount of money. The thermal imager is only one tool in the firefighter’s toolbox and we all know this can only be an advantage if the end user is fully trained and understands its capabilities and/or limitations. There is so much more to know about the camera beyond the manufacturer’s in-service training. Firefighters deserve real-world image interpretation and a quality sequence for safe operational use, none of which can be completed in just the training room or in the chief's office. I would personally give up purchasing an additional camera in a multi-camera package in lieu of acquiring department-wide training from a professional company specializing in thermal imagers. Remember when a problem arises and a life is on the line, it will be the fully trained and mentally prepared firefighter who will efficiently locate victims faster by being able to properly utilize the thermal imager. Lt. Billy Greenwood is Pro-Board Certified NFPA 1041 Instructor-III, NFPA 1021 Fire Officer-II, NH Certified Firefighter-III, Rapid Intervention Team Instructor, NFPA 1003 & FAA Airport Rescue Firefighter, NREMT-Intermediate; I/C. He is a 19-year veteran of the fire service with experience in various volunteer, paid-call, and career fire departments throughout New Hampshire. He is currently working as a career lieutenant with the City of Keene, NH, Fire Department and owns advanced firefighter training and leadership company called, FETC Services. Billy is also a presenter at FDIC 2013 with his program called "Interior Benchmarking" or you can check out his radio show named "Tap the Box" on Fire Engineering Talk Radio.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Bureaucratic Personality - Book Smart and Fireground Stupid

We all understand the fireground can be a very dynamic working environment. If you've been around long enough to know, new fire service veterans will often say "that no two fires are the same" or there is no such thing as the "routine fire" today. This can be especially true if you are charged to work for a fire department that has an "all hazards" mission statement.
All hazards mitigation in fire suppression, technical rescue, hazardous material response, terrorism and/or pre-hospital advanced life support can make the job challenging. The fire service of today has become a very dynamic place for firefighters to operate and survive in. The citizens for which we are charged to protect often hope we have all the answers for their declared emergency. That being said I find it hard to believe with today's demand for a battle ready firefighter, that we still see candidates being hired for a position that are primarily book smart. The problem with the one dimensional, book smart firefighter is he or she will eventually become eligible to test for a promotional examination. I bet you can see where this article is heading, these testing candidates are usually top of the leaderboard when the exam results are posted. Eventually our next generation of firefighters and future officers are now working under a command officer who is more concerned with following correct procedures (the rules) than they are with getting the job done correctly. Columbia University Professor; Robert K.
Merton, introduced back in 1968 the term called "Bureaucratic Personality". When reading Merton's work, he wrote that these workers are usually capable of handling routine situations effectively but are frequently incapable of handling a unique problem or an emergency. Thorstein Veblen used the term "trained incapacity" to characterize situations in which workers have become so highly specialized, or have been given such fragmented jobs to do that they are unable to come up with creative answers to the problems encountered. We have already established that the fire service is a very dynamic place to work, so much so that we often encounter unique or specialized emergencies in a magnitude of different disciplines. A common problem faced with the bureaucratic supervisor is the resistance to seek advice or suggestions from fellow firefighters / fire officers. Without tapping into the knowledge base of the more educated or experienced peer in a specific arena, the operation will often fall back on what is safe for the bureaucratic supervisor's career. Resistance to change often leads to what many outsiders see as fireground incompetence. It is a vicious cycle with this type of behavior and can lead into bureaucratic enlargement. This occurs when officials or administrators of an organization decide to push for larger budgets and justify their growth with taking on more tasks, functions or disciplines for the workforce.
Taking into consideration the strong push in the past for an increase in fire prevention, compounded by the focus on training personnel on "additional disciplines" we now provide as an all hazards fire department... the simple task of putting out a fire can become the high risk / low frequency event for some. When a department is faced with a challenging emergency and comes up short, don't be too quick to point the blame. Organizational behavior has a far bigger role in finding the root cause rather than targeting the end user. The environment for which firefighters and officers are subjected to can breed many internal and external problems. Once these traits have been instilled in an organization, it can drive a strong resistance towards change. This resistance can be based from Maslow's consideration for security. But eventually the bureaucratic leader will reach a performance level that is beyond their knowledge base, fireground experience, and/or capabilities. Hence the common referral as "Book Smart and Fireground Stupid."
Remember brother and sisters.... "Prepare as though your life depends on it!" Because when the tones drop and it is time to gear up and go to work, your investment into the preparation for battle is all you have to bring you home. Have a Safe and Happy Holiday Season. Billy

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tactical Mastery

What makes an "elite" firefighter? Well elite firefighters have invested a tremendous amount of time mastering his or her skill set through thousands of hours of training and experiences. Now looking at experience alone, the elite firefighter has been provided opportunities to succeed from other people who invested time in said development. The author Malcomb Gladwell wrote in his book "Outliers" that "People do not rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot." If we were to overlay Gladwell's quote to the fire service, firefighters in reality are molded or influenced by the people for which they work for. Each of us one way or another are a reflection of our cultural upbringing. Some of those "opportunities" Gladwell speaks of in the fire service would be the instructors and officers who trained and provided the very first exposure to the brotherhood.
Tactical Mastery and the 10,000 hour rule - Physcologists have studied many elite people from different professions to see how much time was invested to master their chosen skill set. Many have concluded that investing 10,000 hours takes the average to the elite. One of these studies conducted by K. Anders Ericsson looked at violinists and divided them into three classifications. These three categories were "Stars", "Good", and just "Average" players. The third category was noted to most likely never play the violin professionally and would probably become music teachers. The study revealed that stars... "the elite musicians" had invested 10,000 hours during their career development. The good players were in the 6,000-8,000 hour range, they played well and with a high level of confidence and the latter was in the 2,000 hour range. Now if we were to look at one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time, The Beatles had a unique development back story. You see John Lennon and Paul McCartney started playing together in 1957, this was (7) years prior to the Beatles invasion of the United States.
Up until 1960 The Beatles were just a struggling high school band that was mediocre at best. But in 1960, they were afforded an opportunity by chance to travel to Hamburg, Germany to play regularly. These Hamburg, Germany gigs were (7) nights a week and the performances were (8) hours per night. Prior to their success in the United States, The Beatles had polished there live act an estimated 1,200 times. That developmental time was a critical component to their mastery. Even today, many bands will never play twelve hundred times in their entire career. Adding up "The Beatles" investment in mastering their act, it totaled around 10,000 hours. By the time they landed in the United States, they had been together for over (8) years and took the music scene by storm.
The fire service has many different levels of fire service delivery. We can see on the internet many exceptional videos but along with good comes many that are lacking quality. Many service delivery levels are decided by the Fire Chief, but looking internally, we can see different levels of service delivery within our own personnel. There can be three categories of firefighters within the fire service similar to what Ericsson concluded. Many times, I hear the standard internet forum arguement, that we are all trained the same. I will agree on paper that we truly are trained the same if we all attended a nationally accredited program. But looking deeper into the statement, why do many fire department's have a few, elite, "go-to-firefighters or fire officers"? And in the same scan of the fireground, you can find some firefighters who are just sliding by as well? Alot can be attributed to a personal desire to provide the best service possible, but in a side by side comparison of equally trained brothers, it can also be the committment towards mastering the job. This mastery takes an enormous amount of time and often can be related to the 10,000 hour rule. Firefighters who take the fire service seriously, regardless if they are paid, paid-on-call, or volunteer, the one's who treat everyday as a training day, the brother or sister who is always following the latest training materials, techniques or scientific studies are investing in their own mastery. I often tell my students to "Invest in your mind and become a student of the fire service for life". Another motivational phrase I use is "Be a master of your domain". You see when I was a younger firefighter, I will admit I had low self esteem and lacked confidence in my fire service skill set. I believe to this day, that many new recruits have the same concerns. That being said, having a solid foundation of basic skill sets combined with field experience starts to provide personal character growth. While the firefighter gains confidence in his or her abilities, he or she is ultimately building self esteem. As a student for life, your committment toward obtaining mastery is important toward self preservation. Firefighters who feel they know everything about the job, are a danger to themselves and others. This mentality will eventually catch the complacent firefighter off guard and undertrained. To achieve mastery we must be a student for life.
Alot of people ask me why I choose to teach while off duty. My answer to them is while training others, I am constantly practicing my basic and advanced skill sets which ultimately make me a better firefighter. I like to tell firefighters that "time on the bottle" is critical. I am not talking about the beverage type either, "the bottle" being my SCBA. You see the more that I wear my self contained breathing apparatus, the more comfortable I become with the unit, it's capabilities, the limitations and ultimately the environment for which I am expected to work in. Now I understand not everybody has the opportunity to be exposed to 300-400 hours of training annually. But if you are training to the bare minimum, like 2 hours per month which category are you naturally going to fall into? If and when you do obtain the 10,000 hour rule within the fire service, those experiences will provide you with a high level of confidence. Like I said earlier, many will achieve this later in their career. It all depends on the time available to commit to training, response and daily exposures to the job in general. One thing that is fact, is all of these experiences will better align the firefighter to become an officer. There is a clear reason why some promotional candidates present with a high level of confidence. Command presence is all about having the right amount of tools in your toolbox, the knowledge of how those tools work (training) and the field experiences that all equate towards tactical mastery.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Has the Integrity of "The Game" been Compromised?

If you were to walk into a fire station on any given Sunday, most if not every dayroom television will probably have the big game on. Die hard football fans who rep the team hats, sweatshirts and jackets of their favorite team have a new dilemma. It seems the recent turmoil over pensions with the NFL official's has soiled the game most of us love. So much so that the game has been affected. Games have a new pace..... record number of penalty flags, coaches challenges, and big brother video play backs all of which have effected the tempo. These constant start and stops have some teams scrambling to get into a flow or rhythm.
In the end, whether it is positive or negative the players and coaches have been told by big brother they are not allowed to speak about the officials. The challenge we as die hard fans have, is we had "expectations" on how the game was going to be run... The fire service is no different, Fire Chief's have an expectation on how the day-to-day and emergency operations are going to be run. If your department has a strong officer development program then the transition of a firefighter to a newly promoted officer goes un-noticed. But without that officer development or mentor program in place, the transition can be brutal. This is exactly why we are all upset at the NFL. They have adjusted the rules and modified the game over time, to make it viewer friendly (greater scoring) and ultimately made it safer for the players. When you remove a key component of "the team" in the NFL, the game has to be affected. What we are seeing now is frustrated players adjusting their mindsets to see what they can and can't get away with. It is no different in the fire service when we appoint a firefighter to acting lieutenant or captain. Being passed the badge without proper mental and physical preparation will lead to loss of integrity of the mission. Just imagine if tomorrow your entire officer staff was told they are no longer supervising and the firefighters who have never taken an officer development class are instantly field promoted.
Would the department have turmoil? Would the integrity of the mission, (enforcement of those policies, procedures, and fire ground operations) be affected? Absolutely, would you see good intentioned people just winging it? I think so.... the difference in what is going on in the NFL and the fire service is much more similar than one would think. If a non-prepared officer leads his brothers into an ill fated battle (what I like to call a born loser) the outcome will surely be bleak. When a middle linebacker see's the wide receiver coming accross the middle for that pass, two trains are going to collide, if the delivery of that hit has a lack of concern over policies, procedures or enforcement one will likely come up injured or worse. There was a reason that over the past decade the NFL has been protecting quarterbacks, and the defense-less receiver. Because the integrity of the game, the safety of these massive players, and the business model of the NFL needs these players, coaches, and fans onboard with the mission. Fire Chief's take note, do not fall into the trap of false expectations. You must send your soon-to-be fire officers to an officer school, seek out fire officer development leaders and instructors to come in, or better yet design an in-house fire officer development program so your industrial athletes (our firefighters) are prepared for the expectations of their future mission. It can be as simple as allowing line officer's to mentor future officer's while on duty.
There is nothing wrong with letting the promotional candidates ride in the front right seat on the next automatic fire alarm. Getting a feel for the hot seat, reading the (MDT) mobile data terminal, assisting with clearing the intersections for the chauffeur's blind spot, signing off on the radio with a nice windshield size-up and the establishment of command. I personally think the preparation of the next line officer is not only the responsibility of the Fire Chief and Training Officer, but the candidate's current line officer as well. In my absence, the firefighter on the current promotional list is most likely stepping up to fill in for the troops. It is our responsibility to make sure we don't let the acting officer end up looking like the debacle we currently are seeing on any given Sunday. Because these guy's in pin stripes are truly acting...
Just a quick reminder to check out our other articles on Fire Engineering's Training Blog Network. You can also listen to us live on "Tap the Box" with FETC Services. We host a radio show on the latest fire service training and leadership topics. We would love to hear from you , connect with us on FaceBook, search FETC Services. Take Care and Stay Safe Brothers..... Billy

Monday, August 6, 2012

Twitter Olympics

Many athletes competing in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London were reminded that they are restricted from releasing olympic related information through the use of social media. "Rule 40" states from the IOC, that use of social media (twitter, facebook, or other related websites) that athletes or authorized persons, shall not release information (Ie: name, photographs, media press releases) associated with the athlete's sponsors during the 2012 games. Many athletes feel this is a violation of their right to freedom of speech. Can the fire service learn from this? Well if your fire department doesn't have a social media policy they better get one soon. Social media is becoming the fastest growing headache for Fire Chief's, City Managers, Mayors and/or Labor Lawyers. It was noted that in the past month alone, that Philly, Baltimore City, and Indy have released new social media policies. Alot of firefighters will say, is there really a need for such?
Well in the past, through internet stories I can recall images of an accident showing a victim’s face, or the accident scene with some gruesome details. These actions may violate privacy concerns, and/or federal HIPAA laws, etc. It wasn't long ago we were debating about cartoon figures that depicted firefighters, medics and hospital staff interactions. Then there was the youtube release of a duty crew hanging in a dayroom being video taped during a staged prank with a bad guy coming in with a gun. And lately their have been "tweets" releasing operational readiness or as some see it as "lack-of-readiness" during the economic downturn. Releasing information about the lack of manned apparatus, or paramedic staffing may seem like the best way to gain public support for the cause, but is it?
Many firefighters feel that our right to freedom of speech is the "catch all" for not accepting a newly implemented social media policy. Curt Varone has told his audiences that our First Amendment Right is a complex law that doesn't give a person broad rights of free speech like many often assume. So before anyone decides to speak negatively about your chief, officer, fellow co-worker or the department itself, you might want to rethink before clicking the post tab. Often times these actions are the end of a firefighter's career. The reputation of the person being attacked can become tarnished and ultimately never regained. This can and has tarnished the career of many good leaders as well. Social media policies are not designed to restrict your voice, it is to protect the employees, the department and everyone's reputation. The fire service is built on the trust and security with the public, media relations is a big part of that protection. The absolute best protection for the entire fire department organization is to have a well thought out social media policy. A policy that everyone understands and can adhere to. For those who were in the fire service before the influx of personal computers, tablets and PDA's, it was unheard of for a firefighter to write an open letter and send it to newspaper with a signed signature. Why was that? Well to be honest, everyone knew that "pen to paper" was powerful, and if written in the negative, it always had reprocussions. What the fire service of today needs to do is educate the latest generation of "computer savy" firefighters, that the power of the keystroke has the same consequences.
Take Care and Stay Safe Brothers..... Tap the Box Baby!