Are You in Port, or Setting Sail?

By Tim Hyden

My wife and I both enjoy an occasional trip to Disney World in central Florida; in fact, I suppose you could say we are certifiable Disney “nuts.” Our location just south of Tampa makes the 90-minute trip way too tempting, enabling us to make a few trips per year. We hit our favorite spots, spend the night, and head back home–quick and simple.

When it came to deciding what to get Maureen for our 10-year wedding anniversary in early 2011, I decided it was time to indulge her with what ended up being a fabulous three-day cruise on the then-brand-new Disney Dream. When we arrived at the port, the ship was berthed tightly against the dock; workers on forklifts buzzed back and forth loading everything imaginable. As we made our way aboard, we quickly realized that the ship was alive–the restaurants were open, entertainment by the pool had already begun, the bars were serving up those first Caribbean-themed cocktails, and even the ship’s engines were running at a slow idle. In short, the ship was ready to go–except that we were still tied to the dock. With all the grandeur that the Disney folks were able to create, we were going nowhere until those ties were removed. We were not a true sailing ship until we were set free from land.

I relate that experience to how so many fire service agencies today resemble what my wife and I witnessed. Most of us have settled into a new, reduced level of financial and resource existence, with necessary, sometimes-painful adjustments having been made. Although some agencies were hit harder than others, there are at least fewer examples of further-dwindling budgets today than there were two or three years ago. There are even signs of some organizations beginning the process of slowly rebuilding to what, in a few cases, could conceivably be prerecession levels. Although this can be perceived as a positive sign of renewed stability, everything is certainly not well quite yet.

The trouble is, what the fire service went through may have caused some organizations to recoil into an extreme defensive stance–for you computer folks, kind of like rebooting in “safe mode,” meaning not all of your computer functions will operate correctly, if at all. Regardless, however, of the variety of conditions that existed before and during the recession, signs of recovery are beginning to take place, and we know that things will eventually improve. The question we have to ask ourselves is, are we willing to begin “venturing out” into the open ocean–untying from the dock and setting sail–to start the process of rebuilding what was lost over the past five years?

Think about it: An agency not using its people, equipment, and know-how to improve its position in the community is a sitting duck in the water, waiting for hunting season to open. For many, there is a window of opportunity available right now if they are willing to take it, as public and economic optimism begin to return, thereby shifting attention toward recovery. We must be ready to carefully and correctly reestablish our fire service as the great profession it is while never forgetting how quickly we fell to near disgrace in some communities as those on whom we depend on for support were facing tremendous financial difficulties of their own.

Remember, just as the captain of a ship is there to provide the vision needed to set out on the journey, the navigator is there to steer the way, the engine crews are there to keep the propellers turning, and the cooks are there to prepare the meals. Take stock of where you and your agency are in the recovery process, along with what opportunities are or will be present now, tomorrow, next month, or next year. Begin to plan that inevitable recovery by “stocking your ship,” getting the engines running, and making sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. And, when your agency gets there, be ready to go.

As a leader in our fire service, muster the courage to proactively guide your agency. Allow your members to fulfill their roles while you set your sights on that far-distant horizon, untie from land, and courageously pull away from port.

Photo found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Zol87.


Tim Hyden is the training and safety officer for East Manatee (FL) Fire Rescue and has been a member of the Florida fire service since 1992. He has an associate degree in fire science, an advanced technical certificate in fire science administration, is a graduate of the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association Emergency Services Leadership Institute, and is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in public safety administration. He holds several state certifications through the Florida Bureau of Fire Standards and Training; contributes articles to Florida Fire Service and Fire Engineering magazines; and speaks on leadership, motivation, officer development, risk management, and marketing

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