To better define empowerment and truly understand what this action is, we must fully understand what it is not. Stopping unsafe acts is directly impacted by our abilities to empower others to act; therefore we must also become empowered ourselves.
Empowerment is a very strong word. It can be said that this action is often met with great resistance because it allows for the transfer of power. “To empower is to enable, or to equip or supply with an ability” (Ford, 2012, p. 81). This action of giving authority to others is sometimes misunderstood. The American fire service has become much better in recent years allowing its members to step up and assume more responsibilities.
The very opposite of empowerment is micromanagement. This will cause many people and organizations to become stagnant. In order for empowerment to be embraced, we as a service organization must think along the lines of investment. Investing in our people is the best way to empower them. A great way of accomplishing a positive culture change is to employ the ABC’s.
We must expect and demand as a professional service the utmost in our people’s attitudes. A positive mindset can only be fostered by empowering others with positive surroundings such as access to quality training, formal education, and progressiveness. We are all in direct control of our attitudes but we are also greatly influenced by the level of empowerment we receive from our superiors. The trickledown effect of a positive culture will be a huge return of investment.
Our behaviors are a direct result of our attitudes. It is impossible to have positive outcomes with our behaviors if our mindset is not cultivated. This is where a divide within the fire service can be seen. The behaviors of the older generations of firefighters differ in many ways than the newer generations. The introduction of Crew Resource Management into the fire service is seen as a direct challenge of authority.
While the younger generation has been indoctrinated to ask questions, the older generation understands this to be a lack of a willingness to comply thus the appearance of entitlement is born.
The ability for empowerment to help stop unsafe acts is dependent upon our knowledge, skills and abilities. The development of KSA’s is directly impacted by the culture within our organization. “The foundation of the future lies in the concept of empowerment” (Ford, 2012. P. 82). Some may say that the fire service culture is doomed. These are specifically the people that would say empowering others is a mistake. They lack the understanding of evolution.
As an Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, it is my humble duty to pontificate the sixteen Life Safety Initiatives. The number one initiative is in fact calling for a cultural change.
Life Safety Initiative #1
Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety; incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility.
“It is important to understand that culture is either by design or default. Deviant behavior and actions are a result of learning the norms, values and beliefs of the organization as a whole” (Dixon, 2015).
In closing, many focus simply on kinesthetic actions in order to stop unsafe acts. In hindsight, many of the tragic outcomes could have been prevented. It is far easier to prevent a drift into failure than it is to correct. The development of our ABC’s is paramount in setting the trend of empowerment.
It does no one any good to keep correcting ourselves on the fireground from negative outcomes when we cannot control our own attitudes, behaviors and ultimately develop a more positive culture while we are back in the station.
Ford, T. (2012). Fire and emergency services safety and survival. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Dixon, J. (2015). The Normalization of Deviance. Firehouse Magazine, Vol. 40, N.10. p.49.