Firefighter Training, Firefighting, Fireground Management, Leadership

Time Management and the Fire Service: A Survey

By Donald R. Kirkham, Ph.D., James P. Reardon III, Captain, Liberty Township (OH) Fire Department

Most firefighters do not sense they have effective time management skills, results from a recently conducted survey indicate. Conducted on the Fire Engineering Web site, the results of a survey of 20 responders reveal that mostfirefighters are not taught time management skills in high school, fire school, or at their department. Forty percent received some time management training in college, but 60 percent did not.

This says a lot about the curriculum and most firefighters’ expertise in managing time, their most precious resource. All firefighters should perform well in their positions and be efficient, but has anyone taught them how to manage their time? It is a travesty to the taxpayer, to the department, and, most of all, to the individual that time management is not an essential element in firefighter training.

Time management, Susan Ward saysis “the development of processes and tools that increase efficiency and productivity. When we think of time management, however, we tend to think of personal time management, loosely defined as managing our time to waste less time on doing the things we have to do so we have more time to do the things we want to do. Therefore, time management is often thought of or presented as a set of time management skills; the theory is that once we master the time management skills, we’ll be more organized, efficient, and happier.”

The survey above was conducted to establish a baseline of understanding regarding firefighters and time management (see statements 1-5 in Part 1. Results and Conclusions below), how important time management is to firefighters, and determine if ineffective time management skills play a role in stress and frustration levels.

Other questions addressed include: Where did firefighters who received time management training learn it How well do firefighters prioritize tasks? Are interruptions handled well? Do firefighters delegate tasks in order to preserve time? How well do firefighters evaluate and readjust skills? How well do firefighters set and achieve goals?

Part One: Results and conclusions

The grading of the first five statements was designed to determine where and when a respondent may have had time management training and if they thought time management is well understood in the fire service. Responses to these statements were limited to ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

1. Most firefighters understand time management. No, 95%.
2. I have been taught time management kills in high school. No, 85%.
3. I have been taught time management skills in college. No, 60%; Yes, 40%. Typically, most colleges and universities offer an orientation course where time management is addressed.
4. I have been taught time management in fire school. No, 95%.
5. I have been taught time management skills at the department. No, 95%.

Statements 4 and 5 suggest that fire academies and departments do not recognize the value of time management training or do not recognize the impact it has on personnel, and that they do not understand the level of stress their personnel endure because personnel don’t have sound time management principles and practices.

Part Two

In the second part of the survey, respondents were asked to evaluate a series of statements using a 1-7 measuring tool. In this grading system, four is neutral; one is not important at all, two not very important, and three somewhat important; five is somewhat important, six important, and seven very important. Eight scales were embedded within the survey: Training, Planning, Prioritizing, Delegating, Events, Stress, Evaluation, and Goals. Each scale was designed to help us determine how important these were in relationship to time management. The graphs below show the survey results according to each of these scales.

Definitions. Mean: the arithmetic average of a group of scores the sum of scores divided by the number of scores. Median: the middle score when all scores in a distribution are arranged from highest to lowest. Mode: value with the greatest frequency in a distribution. From Statistics for the Behavior and Social Sciences, Arthur Aron, Elaine Aron, Second Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey 2002.

How important is time management in the life of a firefighter and does it affect other areas of their performance?

Training assesses the time management training of the person and department. Training is evaluated to gauge the degree of competency of time management skills.

As the reader can plainly see, time management has a huge statistical importance. Although firefighters may not have been exposed to time management training, it is clear they feel it is of great importance to them. Lack of training creates stressful situations which impact events on the fireground.

There is a direct and resounding correlation between training, stress, and events. The respondents indicated that inadequate time management training leads to stressful events and events they cannot control.

Planning assesses the degree of planning effort that is made for competent time management. Gauging the attitude toward planning will assist in understanding firefighters’ willingness to subscribe to time management principles and practices.

Planning is almost neutral and the bell curve is just slightly off in the positive direction.

Prioritizing assesses the aptitude to triage tasks, and duties into divisible categories. These categories can then be acted on in order to execute in the most expeditious fashion possible.

Prioritizing of tasks important to the respondents in a positive direction, with several responses (five out of 20) viewing it as important to them. The average being 4.8192. Failing to know how to handle interruptions causes stress and productivity loss, and not knowing how to prioritize tasks also impacts how firefighters delegate tasks. We therefore conclude that lack of prioritizing leads to a much higher level of stress/frustration.

Delegation assesses the abilities and thought processes of the person to have the skill to recognize prioritized tasks and assign duties based upon those priorities. Comprehending the task and its level of importance and then matching those with a person’s skill set is crucial to successful delegation. The art of time management hinges on seamless delegation to fruition.

Delegation of tasks has a slightly positive direction with almost as many responses feeling it is not as important as it is important. The average is 4.4667. Delegation of tasks is a tool in the time management tool box. The above assessment suggest that respondents don’t know the art of delegation or don’t delegate because they do not like to do so.

Events as it relates to this survey indicates how important time management is in controlling events as they occur. Some examples are phone call interruptions, people interruptions, and other distractions. The respondents indicated that time management and controlling those interruptions is significant.

Stress assesses the existing level of frustration/stress resulting from poor time management skills. Employees without time management skills often are easily frustrated, causing poor work performance that can lead to more frustration and stress. The cycle will continue until the system is in utter confusion and effective work habits are lost.

Time management skills have a direct relationship upon job stress. The numbers suggest that poor job time management skills elevate job stress. Job stress was rated as very important to seven of the 20 respondents. Proper time management practices can improve one’s ability to cope with job stress.

Evaluate assesses the ability to review and objectively analyze events, and then adjust to them accordingly.

One can draw many conclusions from this graph, but it asks more questions than it answers. Apparently, many firefighters do not reevaluate their goals and priorities, feeling that evaluation is not an important feature of their time management skill set. Does this mean that firefighters do not understand time management, as suggested in Part One’s first statement, or that they do not value the importance of evaluation?

Goals assesses firefighters’ ability recognize the need and importance of goals, and being able to move from the abstract ideas to action. Goal orientation is a key to successfully learning time management.

Goal setting appears to be as important to as many as it is not important. The one exception is that four of the responses indicated that goals play a very important part of their lives.

Where Do We Go From Here?
The absence of time management training impacts, job stress, prioritizing of tasks, goal setting, planning of future tasks, delegation of tasks, how events are dealt with, and how the respondents evaluated their performance. The next step is to find a time management system that works best for the emergency services industry, and the results of this survey will help in that endeavor.

Special thanks to Leigh Atkinson, Ph.D. ABD, Ohio University Pickerington Center director, Juli S. Kirkham, Ph.D., director of the Traumatic Brain Injury Department at Marquette General Hospital, and Ron Chapin, CEO of Chapin Services.

Don Kirkham is a retired firefighter/medic from the Delaware City (OH) Fire Department. He has a bachelor of science degree in fire science and in engineering, a master’s degree in public administration, and a Ph.D. in business administration. Kirkham is facility manager for Velocys, a research and development company, and was the construction project manager for Ohio University’s newest satellite campus in Pickerington, Ohio.