In a previous column, I asked: Why would anyone want to be an officer? The most common answer was “to make things better." I agree that is a very noble aspiration, but making things better means change, and it takes courage to even propose change in the fire service.
I was recently reading through a fire service blog where firefighters, as well as officers, were lamenting that their particular departments did not have a mentoring program. Complaining about our departments’ shortcomings is a favorite pastime for all of us! We all want our departments to be the best, but we are reluctant to make the personal commitment it takes to achieve that. When you say the words, “My department doesn’t have ___________," I want you to stop yourself and ask if this is not an opportunity for you to make your department better.
Have you ever been told that you can never be as good a firefighter as the generation before because there aren’t as many fires as there used to be? Of course, you have. That is what every generation tells the next. There are not as many fires as there used to be, but that does not mean you cannot be as skilled at fighting fires as they are! Good fire departments are actively seeking buildings scheduled for demolition for “live burns” and using these opportunities to gain the necessary experience. There has never been more information disseminated through more mediums than today: magazines, videos, books, Web sites, conferences-- not only are there lectures, but there are also hands-on training opportunities, podcasts (you can hear my leadership podcast under “Captain’s Corner”), and professional trainers who will come to you.
Another department used its training facility and instructors to charge outside firefighters for various training--confined space, rescue systems, etc.--and put the proceeds toward improving its facility until it had built an extraordinary array of props to advance the training of its personnel.
As a training officer, I was asked to develop a confined space rescue program for the department. When I requested a $3,000 winch and tripod for our rescue squad, I was told there was no money in the current budget for additional equipment. Discouraged but not defeated, I arranged a rescue demonstration for our underground utility company and borrowed a tripod and winch from a rigging company. First, I demonstrated to the utility company our ability to execute an underground rescue using two ladders strapped together with a z-rig suspended from the top. We were able to put a rescuer at the victim’s side in 15 minutes. I then brought out the tripod and repeated the rescue in less than five minutes. That afternoon, the utility company called me with a purchase order number to buy our tripod and winch!
A friend of mine owns a company that builds cell towers. I pointed out to him that fire stations are often strategically placed in communities and might be interested in generating long-term revenue in exchange for leasing ground space for a tower. We are currently working with fire departments throughout California to evaluate their sites for cell tower development.
There are always opportunities to make our departments better. Often, it only takes someone to recognize it and champion it to fruition. Companies throughout the country are reinventing themselves to survive this recession, and so must we.
Michael Hennigan retired as a battalion chief from the San Francisco (CA) Fire Department after served 35 years with the department. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business from the University of San Francisco. He is certified by the California State Fire Marshal to teach management and tactics. For the past 10 years, he has taught numerous fire departments throughout northern California and is a part-time instructor for City College of San Francisco. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.