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The Human Element in Firefighting

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FIREHOUSE | Health & Safety Report | 2019

 

The human condition is often the most overlooked factor when examining fire service outcomes. At the street level, very little is discussed or understood of what makes us human. In taking a deeper look into our attitudes, behaviors, and culture, however, we can truly work at creating a positive environment for professional growth. The improvement of the human condition within the emergency services is relative to our specific paradigms. The Tampa Safety Summit in 2004 gathered many fire service stakeholders at various levels in their careers under one roof, in the same room, with one goal. After much deliberation, the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives were born and published industry-wide. While the context of each initiative is vital to understand, the one common factor that binds them together is the human element and our ABCs.

ATTITUDES

Our personal attitude is synonymous with our personal accountability. We must become better at accepting our roles within the organization as vital ones. The times of simply acting as a drone or a good foot soldier must come to an end. We must expect and demand 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 leaders. The trickle-down effect of a positive culture will be a huge return on investment.

BEHAVIORS

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 from the newer generations. For example, Crew Resource Management may be understood 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.

Personal growth comes from our attitude, behaviors, and culture!

CULTURE

For some time now, modern fire service culture has been gravitating toward the organization itself rather than the citizens we are sworn to protect. We are trying to remain relevant to our mission of life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation all at the same time as we are fighting one another on how to provide that service. We are creating an entirely new culture of self above others. The 2015 National Safety Culture Change Initiative found that “The culture of unsafe practices may be so deeply ingrained that efforts to change are viewed as challenges to fundamental beliefs, while other unsafe practices are created by the culture of the fire and emergency service as a whole.” This new paradigm of self above others would suggest that our emotions are still in control of our behaviors, therefore furthering the argument that our culture shapes our actions. This is why it is imperative to take caution in how we shape the future of the fire service.

Change

To understand change, we must examine the differences between incremental change and transformational change. Each type of change is a profoundly different experience. Incremental change is the result of rational planning with clearly defined goals. This change can usually be reversed if needed, which gives us the feeling of being in control. Incremental change involves using our knowledge and abilities. Deep change requires new ways of thinking and, most importantly, behaving. This change is generally irreversible and creates a situation in which we realize we don’t have the knowledge or ability. This requires that we lose control. How do each one of us understand and apply our actions?

The 16 Life Safety Initiatives provide a roadmap. How we choose to reach the destination is on us. The absolute constant in being human is that change is inevitable. Utilizing and implementing the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives in our decision-making matrix will provide clarity to our mission.

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