“Command from Engine 1, we are one minute out, what are our orders?"
As Incident Commanders or Chief Officers, this is a common decision that all of you make on a regular basis. The life safety of your personnel and the people affected by the emergency all depend on the immediate decision you make. The compressed time frames during fireground operations are unforgiving and require definitive actions to mitigate the emergency.
Many Chief Officers have studied, prepared, and experienced many of these types of fireground situations. Recognition-Primed decision making allows fireground commanders to effectively base their decisions and actions quickly on previous experiences. Countless lives have been saved and successful outcomes have been achieved based on these quick and decisive actions that were taken.
However, how do these same thought processes transfer over to the administrative responsibilities and decisions required by many of these same Chief Officers? The time constraints for the administrative responsibilities and decisions of these positions are more forgiving. Dealing with personnel and disciplinary issues, organizational policies and procedures, budgets, long range planning, procurement of equipment, and vehicle repairs and maintenance are just a few examples of administrative responsibilities that typically do not require an immediate answer or response at that moment.
Chief Officers cannot be rushing into making quick decisions, as they do on the fireground that could negatively impact the organization and personnel. Time needs to be taken and allowed to consider short term and long term impacts of the decision. Feedback and input from multiple stakeholders in the organization can provide different information to improve the outcome.
Too often, we hear about decisions that were made without considering or listening to other options. Winston Churchill stated “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”. Many times our emotions drive decisions that could lead to an impulsive response. Making administrative decisions like you’re on the fireground, could contribute to greater complications and more problems in the future.
Chief Officers will be continually challenged to step back from everything that has been instilled in them for decision making on the fireground and how they make administrative decisions. Many administrative solutions can be methodically examined and discussed before implementation. Don’t rush to judgement and have that decision negatively impact the organization and personnel long term. After careful and deliberate consideration of all the factors, make a decision that hopefully will lead to the greatest good for the community, organization, and personnel.
As a Chief Officer, our job is to make decisions. But more importantly, it’s our job to stop and listen. Take your time administratively to process and gather all of the information and make an informed decision that will hopefully not lead to another question..
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Christopher W. Norris has been a member of the Westhampton Fire Department since April 1994. He has served in numerous capacities in the organization up until his appointment to Fire Chief in January 2007. Chief Norris has a Master’s Degree in Fire Science and Administration from Anna Maria College, a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Westfield State University and is currently completing his Doctorate Degree in Public Policy and Administration. Chief Norris has completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program through the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program and is a member of the EFO Section representing the New England Division on the Board of Directors.