Friday, May 18, 2012

Blinder Mentality

Life moves at a fast pace these days. So fast you can easily miss an opportunity to improve one self. The pace affects everybody from the firefighter on the floor, right up to the chief’s office. There are two common management models during these busy times, the first would be the progressive management model. Being progressive involves supporting the needs and requirements of the organization and predicting the future. The latter is called crisis management modeling. An organization that remains stagnant and waits for the next crisis to manage is often like going through life with horse blinders on.
After returning from this year’s journey to Indy, I took note of a new horse in our stable. For those who don’t know, we have horses at our small farm in New Hampshire. One common misconception about horses is that we (humans) teach them. What many people don’t understand about horses is how the horses can teach us (humans) a multitude of lessons. Things like developing life, responsibility and communication skills. Many of these leadership traits are similar to the fire officer’s responsibilities for supporting his or her organization. For example for those who know me, understand I am a fan of the fastest two minutes in racing. In preparation for those two minutes of brute power, “the horse’s development team” had to put in thousands of hours of physical and mental training toward the mission of winning. Sometimes in the process of training a young horse who has difficulty concentrating, a trainer will use blinders to make the horse focus on his task. Taking away the outside distraction(s) often yield positive results in getting to the finish line ahead of the pack. Our annual pilgrimage to the greatest fire service convention in the world is essentially my way of keeping the horse blinders off. FDIC is truly an annual tune up for the fire service. When firefighters get comfortable with their daily routine(s), they can easily get caught with blinders on. While seeing one view or perspective is purposeful for horse racing, it may not be beneficial if you decide to train that same horse for other disciplines.
In the movie Backdraft, Engine 17's kitchen had a fictional sign on the wall stating, “150 Years of Tradition… Unimpeded by Progress” The saying is often recited by firefighters throughout the world and piggybacked with “That won’t work here.” I usually reply with the standard, “May I ask why?” Then the firefighter provides a long winded answer saying…. “Well because we have always done it that way!” Can you imagine if the world never changed the way things were done? If so we would all be dragging a steamer to the next fire with horses or holding our breath while attempting a rescue. Get my point yet? Why is the fire service so caught up on being set in our comfortable ways. Let’s face it the world is changing almost daily. Things are now developed to make life easier, produce products faster, or to make greater profits. The down side to all of these luxuries, is in the process of mitigating an emergency we now have new hazards to deal with. When we overlay training, tactics and techniques that were developed or delivered many years ago, it may be incompatible or incorrect for the modern day hazard.
This is why when we look at our mission, the focus should be on maintaining our training to the highest level. Simply put, without adequate preparation for the environment you are expected to work in, you are essentially walking around with horse blinders on. We all agree times are busy…. but they can be financially challenging as well. Training budgets can be one of the first things politicians aim to eliminate. Don’t get caught in the crisis management mode when the budget is targeted. Progressive leaders understand the impact quality training has on our firefighters and can explain how that training benefits the public as well. Solid training for our troops is what keeps the boots on the ground working safely. Many progressive firefighters would rather work with older apparatus (that was obviously well maintained) with highly trained brothers than work with a shiny new fire truck and poorly trained brothers. Getting out of the house once in a while is a good thing. Going to a convention to see how other fire departments are operating, training, managing, gaining funding, and working at peak performance levels with the financial budget they currently have is one benefit of the “national convention” networking system. Even if you can only send one firefighter per year, the benefits of returning with a fully charged and battle ready brother will benefit the company or department he or she is working for.
On the road to life, don’t be caught regretting that you spent your fire service career with blinders on. Stay focused, stay progressive and situationally strong of the mission's requirement for a battle ready - battle tested firefighter. “Train as though your life depends on it, because it truly does.” - Tap the Box Baby..... TCSS - Billy

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