Letters to the Editor: January 2021

Let’s Be Smart; Safety and Success Will Follow

As a 25-plus-year student of public safety, I have told crews to be safe more times than I can count. And yes, I want our crews to be safe all the time. However, as my experience increases and I continue to take classes and teach more, I find out that being safe is not our job; being smart is.

Our job is dangerous by default. We put people in very dangerous situations, work in some of the most difficult situations outside of combat, and tell people to be safe. Being safe does not allow us to successfully execute our responsibilities. In a society that is becoming more risk adverse, it is time for our public safety partners to become risk managers. We can do this with three precepts:

  1. Leading by example.
  2. Developing organizations that promote critical thinking.
  3. Flawless execution.

A company I worked for had a saying on the wall: “Attention to detail drives everything we do.” That is the truth.

The fire service I am familiar with has done an outstanding job over the past 10-plus years to develop a tactical discipline that builds our foundation. This expands on decades of experience and helps us to compensate for the staffing changes and increasing challenges. As we have done this, we have also had to make sure we have not created robots. If you have ever read General Stanley McCrystal’s book Team of Teams, you learned how senior military officials identified they were not winning battles because they were trying to fight a war from a conference room. They realized that by providing the strategy to the best-trained operators in the world, they would have better success. It was simple: The SEAL team knew the mission, the environment, and their strengths and weaknesses; it worked, and they started to win.

The year 2020 has been the most complex year in the United States and the world since World War II. We have had to be creative and flexible while still paying attention to everything we do. It is time for us to make sure we lead our people in a way that they rely on their training and experience to make the right decisions while also holding them accountable. If they deviate or something goes wrong, ask why. Maybe their logic was sound, maybe it wasn’t, but we need to make sure we create a culture where people think and don’t just act. So, yes, we want people to be safe, but teach them how to be smart—and safety and success will follow.

A.J. Schall Jr.
Delaware Emergency
Management Agency

Paul Combs/Drawn by Fire

Paul Combs

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