Recently the plight of a youth football team and their coach in a cave system in Thailand became the focus of international interest along with an international rescue response. The incident proved both the effectiveness of international response to an emergency but sadly, it also demonstrated the risks that rescuers take with the death of Saman Kunan, a former Thai navy Seal diver who died in the attempted rescue of the trapped group.
The rescue efforts were quickly televised, and a rapid local response initiated. The complexity of the cave system and the skills needed prompted the deployment of specialist divers from across the globe. The worlds media kept us informed of rescue plans and the eventual successful rescue of all of those trapped.
As with other global rescues, at a time of need response came without delay or bureaucracy demonstrating that language, culture, primacy and payment does not have to be a barrier when lives are at risk.
We all mourn the passing of Saman Kunan but we share his desire to offer specialist skills to those who need it recognising the risks involved.
Given the stark example of successful global collaboration in Thailand how successful are we in collaborating without the demands of an emergency? Don’t get me wrong, I know there are many successful and ingenious shared efforts around the world, but do we put as much effort into working together as we could and if not, what potential are we missing?
I recently had a chance encounter with a former Chief Fire Officer who remains engaged with the global fire sector. He asked me what I thought of collaboration in the Fire and Rescue Service and I was keen to share my experiences of successful initiatives and the sharing of ideas, skills and facilities with other emergency service colleagues. He politely acknowledged these achievements but then asked, ‘is this real collaboration’? After probing him as to what he would see as success I had to concede that in my own experience we had made a good start but there were far wider opportunities.
The question ‘is this real collaboration?’ became a focus of my thoughts for the days and weeks after. I have concluded that anything that has a shared interest and positive and sustainable outcome is real collaboration, but I do think that barriers, both perceived and real constrain our thoughts and opportunities.
Twenty-one years ago, whilst a newly promoted Station Officer in a UK County Fire Brigade, I was offered the opportunity to take part in an Officer exchange programme with a colleague from Plano, Texas, USA. The opportunity came from discussions between a number of US and UK Fire Chiefs who themselves had initiated a UK/US Symposium for the purpose of exchanging ideas and opportunities to improve their respective organisations.
Whilst the symposium was strategic the four-week visits to our respective Services in the UK and USA were tactical. However, at a tactical level those visits bore fruit. As a truly visible example, during his visit to the UK in 1997, Captain Jack Sides took a photograph of a Somerset appliance. This vehicle was the newest in the fleet and was one of the first to have a new livery which included the application of retro-reflective chevron stripes to give high conspicuity whilst stationary at an incident. On return to the USA, Bill Peterson, the Chief at Plano recognised the potential safety benefits of the striping. Following discussion between Bill, Jack and myself alongside manufacturer 3M, three new Plano FD appliances were fitted with what was then known as ‘Plano Striping’. As a result of a fire trade show 3M received orders from over 40 US Fire Departments and the design now forms part of NFPA 1901, Fire Apparatus Regulations.
There were many other examples of shared ideas from both my own and the following exchanges that took place and whilst one might argue that this was not true collaboration it is a clear example of what can be achieved from informal idea sharing and this continued far beyond that first visit.
In an informal environment we seem able to achieve consensus, develop, share and energise ideas. In doing so we achieve common goals, a consistent approach with shared outcomes using less resources. Just think what could be achieved if we break down the barriers to make this the norm rather than the exception?
International Fire Fighter and its sister magazines in the MDM stable are in a position to assist this by providing a platform for information sharing, highlighting examples of successful collaboration across the globe that go beyond fire/rescue and look at our emergency service partners. Is there anyone out there who is up for the challenge so that we can demonstrate and develop ‘real collaboration’ and unleash real potential?
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