I write this as the world is facing a global pandemic from Coronavirus (COVID-19) and entering new territories through uncharted waters. I begin by wishing colleagues from the fire and rescue family around the world best wishes during these challenging and worrying times. A time that requires exceptional leadership within fire and rescue services worldwide in order to deliver our excellent emergency service to the people we serve.
As I reflect on the current crisis situation we face, it not only reinforces my leadership focus on our most valuable resource, our people, but also effective decision making and communications. I am also interested in the diversification of a firefighter’s role during a crisis and contemplate how that can become the norm based on a worldwide fire and rescue primary objective to save lives.
I’ll begin with the leadership reflections and believe that each and every person reading this comment would agree that a fire and rescue services most valuable resource is its people. Somewhere in the region of 85% of our revenue budget is salary, our strategic objective to save lives cannot be achieved without our people and the future of our organisation is the very people that form it. Our people need leadership, they need to feel valued, safe and appreciated, they need personal development and to enjoy coming to work to a culture where they can be themselves and feel part of a team delivering meaningful work. Achieving and maintaining this people focus in challenging times can be difficult but the rewards in terms of dedication and professionalism are overwhelming. Effective decision making and great communications are also key to success.
As fire and rescue leaders has our decision making become too risk averse, are we subsumed by fear and the consequences of failure? During times of crisis speed of decision making is always likely to be more important than perfection. Arguably any decision is better than no decision. Combine intuition based on past experience and personal values with a reasoned process that embraces joint decision making where practicable. Commit to the decision and be sure you can communicate it and persuade others of the merits. If you think back over your operational careers you will rarely regret a decision where you requested too many resources but may well have regretted the decision where you requested too few. Too much analysis can breed paralysis and the potential value and positive outcomes from a timely decision lost forever.
Good communication is key to a shared understanding to deliver the right approach and desired outcomes. Articulate the aim, purpose and outcome. Make expectations clear, use a common language and terminology and confirm understanding by encouraging questions and challenge. Often adopting the media press release approach of praise, pity and promise can be useful in communicating decisions. Acknowledge, celebrate and thank the people for their contribution so far (praise), Outline the challenges, the negative impacts, demonstrating empathy and understanding (pity) and be confident in the positive outcomes, achieving the goal, delivering the rewards (promise).
Finally as an optimist I believe out of every crisis comes significant learning and our response to a crisis brings out the best in fire and rescue colleagues around the world. A track record of emergency service diversification demonstrates that linking resources to risk breeds success. We all know risk is dynamic, it changes, society changes, threat levels change and therefore fire and rescue roles should change as needed. With our primary objective to save lives and an accepted ethos that prevention is better than cure we must adapt our approaches and oil the wheels of change.
Charles Darwin said; “It is not the strongest of the species that survives nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
Let us encourage fire and rescue services around the world to be adaptable to change, to embrace new ways of working, new practices, new fields of work. Let us see fire and rescue services develop capabilities based on community needs and risk profiles – a changing threat or risk profile requires an adaptable and flexible service to reduce or eliminate the negative impact. Be willing to change because the world we live in certainly won’t stay the same.