Communications and the Chief
Almost everything a fire chief does involves communications and yet it is only too easy for him to assume that it is no problem.
There are four basic reasons for communicating in our everyday life style as well as our place of business and, in our case, the implementation of orders, directives and related activities.
It is important that the necessary information be complete and accurate for the order to be effectively implemented into our fireground operations and related fire department activities.
The art of communicating will stimulate thinking. This in turn will suggest new plans and methods of operations along with recommended improvements in the overall conduct of your fire company or fire department. I feel that this stimulation of thinking has the overall effect of self-motivation and improvement, which can be considered a byproduct of communication.
The art of communicating will clarify certain criteria set forth in your operation plans within the fire department. The use of charts, organizational structure plans, etc., is part of the communication program.
I believe that people in the fire service are interested and curious about developments in their jobs and that is going to arouse their curiosity about the future of the fire service. A person so informed feels that he is part of the overall objective and feels that he has received recognition when he is kept abreast of the overall program.
Official communication in a fire department is very important to minimize unnecessary rumors that can create many problems. It has been stated that rumor is the harvest of inadequate communication.
Official communication from the top, whether it be formal or informal, can certainly limit the shock to the members who may be involved in such things as transfers, promotions, etc. When individuals hear from the grapevine that they may be reassigned, it can create many unnecessary problems in the organization. If this condition develops, you may experience a lack of confidence among the men under your command which in turn may affect their work performance. Obviously, the best way to discourage a rumor is to answer it with facts through a communication network within your organization.
Communication is fundamental in all group endeavors. Management and personnel should have a general awareness of the nature of interpersonnel communication. Effective communication can be a determining factor in how much real authority a leader has. We also must realize that we combine the higher authority with the functional activity of the lower levels in management. Communication can be formal or informal, official or unofficial.
Informing news media
Communication with the news media can be very important to the fire service. We have to realize that reporters in the news media do have certain deadlines to meet. If you have a large fire, they are interested because it is a newsworthy item. Because of this, they may be bothering you constantly as to what stage the fire is in and what progress is being made in extinguishing it.
However, we cannot alienate the news media. It is important to keep them on your side by objective and truthful reporting. Do not attempt to hide anything or mask any particular problem with jargon that they may not be familiar with. Also, do not report the fire to the reporters in technical lingo. This would tend to confuse them and inadvertently present a misinterpreted story of the fire.
I feel that it is important that a public relations man be assigned to provide information to the news media at fires. He should be the only one to issue any statements about the fire and its progress. This can take a great responsibility from the chief officers at the scene of any major fire.
It would be well for members of the fire service in a public relations position to speak with press, radio and TV newsmen and establish a good relationship with them so when emergency conditions arise, they will understand what can be released and what cannot be released.
Finally, public relations in news reporting can be important and beneficial to your fire department from the standpoint of good publicity and future relations with the news media.
Before communicating, it is important to have in your mind what you want to say—clarification is all important. You should not begin talking until what you want to say is clear in your own mind.
Communication must be able to adapt to the environment that it is set in. This may require repeating times, dates, specific jobs, etc. On the fireground, if an officer tells you to “hit the hydrant,” that order should have to be given only once because you are familiar with the job because of your previous training.
Determine your goal
When communicating, your tone of voice and expression are important for proper reception by the person or persons to whom you are speaking. Your expression in a large part will determine the reaction of your listeners.
Before you communicate, you should ask yourself what you really want to accomplish. Identify your most important goal, and at this point, your voice level will be the deciding factor in whether the message is understood.
Your best efforts put forth in communication should be followed up. Your time will be wasted if your meaning is not understood. Be sure that every communication has some sort of a feedback so that complete understanding and appropriate action can result.
When we start to talk, in many cases we cease to listen. We have to be attuned to the other person’s reactions. As listeners, we are guilty many times in certain circumstances of inattention and wandering of the mind— thinking of something else.
Talking face to face
Communicating face to face is extremely important when issuing orders, instructing or training men in the art of completing assignments. Obviously, when speaking with another officer or fireman, your face-to-face contact should be positive to gain his attention. I would propose this question: Have you ever had the experience of having another officer or fireman speak to you while his mind is wandering or he is reading a book, talking on the telephone, looking in the files, etc.? Communicating face to face is probably the most effective means of direct communication.
When on the fireground and during radio operations, again it is important that you speak directly into the walkie-talkie or the radio mike you are using. This will limit background noise, making your message distinct and audible. I believe that it is selfevident that the man you are speaking to over the radio will give you more attention if you come through loud and clear.
Written communication is the most complete and formal way of implementing and expediting orders to officers and members in your organization. The written communication can be very effective and should be be very effective if it is properly worded to contain all of the necessary facts. It is important in written communications, as in any communication, to be accurate, concise and thorough. This is because the recipient will have a chance to read and reread and digest the necessary information that is pertinent to him or his organization.
Written communications should not be lengthy. This can be abbreviated to the point where they disseminate the information you want projected. You have to realize that in a written communication, the message can be taken many different ways. Also, you should be cognizant of your grammar, sentence structure and spelling because many times these can be criticized by the recipient.
Expression while talking
Oral communication must be done in the proper way. Tone and facial expression are important to the recipient. By looking at your facial expression and listening to your tone of voice, listeners will determine what you really mean. You can say the same thing, but it can be interpreted in two different ways just because of your facial expression and the tone of your voice.
You will find that the way you answer the telephone can tell the other person in many cases the mood that you may be in at the time. It is this mood and tone that will tell him how he should speak to you.
Also in oral communication, always consider the environment. For example, an office, a fireground, a high noise area, etc., will determine if the other person receives the entire message or parts of the message. We should constantly practice oral communication in all our endeavors so as to be more proficient when the time comes to issue orders and directives.
Establishing and controlling fireground communications is one of the most difficult and least practiced arts in our field. Attempting to set up fireground communications at best can be difficult. We all realize from our experience in the fire service that certain locations will preclude good radio communication.
We also have to realize that in departments without a full complement of officers it is difficult to set up an effective communications network at a large fire. However, we should definitely consider setting up a method of operation and be prepared for this eventual necessary need. Establishing and maintaining fireground control starts back at fire headquarters in your pre-fire planning and training program. This also includes the effective operation of your fire alarm dispatching unit.
Pre-fire planning a good fireground communication system is paramount in the effective control of a fire situation. We have to consider good radio equipment along with the proper training of the men using the equipment and working within the framework of the pre-fire plan. Communications are all all-important when working at large fires, such as in large industrial complexes and high-rise structures.
We realize the value of walkietalkies as well as their limited range. We realize the effect that steel construction can have on reception by these units. However, this can be overcome by good pre-fire planning programs.
When establishing a command post at a fireground, many times it can be the chiefs car. It can even be an engine company also out of service, a large van, such as a mobile radio unit, and, in many sophisticated cases, mobile units equipped with television cameras, etc.
However, in most cases our fireground communication setup for command post will be the chief or deputy chiefs car. This can be just as effective as an expensive mobile radio unit. More important, or equally important, is the proper use of the radio, the oral message given, the tone of voice used and the implementation of good radio training.