Friday, October 12, 2012
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
For decades, the volunteer fire service has been struggling with staffing issues. Decreasing numbers of volunteers have been the topic of fire service discussions across the country. The reasons are plentiful: the economy, the changing domestic profile, other worthy causes biding for our time, the increasing risks, the elevated training requirements, etc…
While these reasons have some degree of validity, there are plenty of solutions to help relieve them as valid excuses. We are just too lazy to give the effort it would take to solve those problems. The sad truth is that we have a manpower problem because we don’t know how to manage people! Situations can be managed, things can be managed, time can be managed, money can be managed, and even groups of people can be managed. But I am not talking about TEAM management here; I am referring to the management of a single person. Also known as, “how to treat people”
Sadly, many of today’s fire service leaders do not have the skills to properly manage themselves, let alone another individual. Most develop an image of exactly how their “soldiers” should be; make a plan that utilizes those soldiers, then cast off anyone that doesn’t fit their mold. A baker who uses a cookie cutter will always gather the leftover dough, re-roll it, and make a few more cookies. Sometimes the leftovers can be molded into some other culinary treat, but nothing ever goes to waste. Not in the fire service, however. One by one, we cast off perfectly good “dough”, and discard it without any thought of what that one extra “cookie” could mean to the organization one day. Those with pet dogs know that once the scrap hits the floor, you simply aren’t getting it back.
Today’s leaders lack the ability to nurture, develop, and utilize the variety of people that come in the door, willing to help. They wastefully discard people like they are an endless commodity because it is much easier than “dealing with” the challenges that some people present. Worse yet, these leaders are breeding an entire generation of like-minded thinkers. These little bullies are pushing away great people… smart people… dedicated people… people whose only weakness is the unwillingness to tolerate the bullshit that gets flung around a fire station. I’m not just talking about the narrow-minded veterans who only know one way to get things done. I am also talking about the 2/20 guy whose duffle bag is still swinging on the hook.
I would love to staff a fire department with all the individuals who left the fire service because of the way they were treated. I think of all the years of training and experience that are being wasted because we simply don’t know how to treat people right. I have had several long conversations with former members of the fire service, and the underlying theme is interesting. They feel abandoned, under-appreciated, and unwelcome. These men and women still have the desire to serve, the willingness to sacrifice, and the ability to be great assets to the organizations that left them behind. Sadly, the leaders of those organizations have done little or nothing to reel them back in; they never investigated the problem, therefore they didn’t need to execute a solution. They just kept spinning the revolving door, wondering why their staffing levels aren’t a robust as they want them to be.
THESE past members are the people who should write the books on recruitment and retention. Their wisdom and experience could go a long way toward solving the staffing crisis. Here are a few of the topics they would likely suggest:
· Be fair to everyone. If you make a rule, make it for everybody.
· Don’t make rules that hamper your effectiveness.
· Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Secrets demoralize troops!
· Understand that individuals have lives outside the firehouse; support that notion.
· Not everyone has to be the nozzleman, if you have a happy hydrant man, be happy to have him.
· Politicians should not dictate fire service operations, despite how powerful they think they are.
· What motivates some doesn’t work on all. Be flexible, be creative.
· A dangling carrot nets better results than a prodding pitchfork.
· People like to be lead, so if you are a leader of the organization, LEAD already!
· Take notice of the positives, and stop dwelling on the negatives.
· Give everyone the opportunity to achieve the greatness they seek.
· Everyone is an expert at something. If you don’t think so, you are missing out!
· Honor, respect, appreciate, and encourage.
Take notice that most of these suggestions are about how to treat people, not how many certificates you have. Firefighters are people first, and if we keep forgetting that, all the wisdom in the world won’t help solve our staffing issues.