Thoughts on Changing Fire Service Culture

By:  Branden Husky, Guest Blogger

Culture landscape

Culture consists of group norms of behavior and the underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place.

Changing our culture?  I saw this piece from Chief Robert Avsec on LinkedIn and I couldn’t help myself so I posted my comments on the LinkedIn Group.  Chief Avsec (the author) contacted me and asked me to use my comments as a Guest Blogger, so here I am.

I have been studying and applying the ideas of creating personal and leadership boundaries. This has forced me to be very self-reflective and very clear about my expectations. It has also made me consider what consequences will be handed out in the case my expectations are not met. Long story short, I feel the culture is shaped directly by the maturity of our captains [first-line supervisors] and their understanding of their boundaries as leaders and as human beings.

Secondly, I have noticed a direct maturing effect that a professional female presence has on a crew. We have very mature and professional female FF’s and the maturity level of those crews is notably higher than those that are all men. Professional women, that are comfortable living and being just that, professional women, are worth their weight in gold. They add a touch of class and have an amazing effect on helping men act like men instead of boys.

The “boys club” mentality has been an amazing recruiting tool for us, but it has ended many careers as well. The presence of professional women increases the professional “behavioral IQ” of a crew in my opinion. Men and women are equally important yet very different. Those differences should be embraced and be allowed to compliment each other.

BUILDING A CASE FOR AN INCLUSIVE AND DIVERSE VOLUNTEER FIRE SERVICE

Chief Paige DayI don’t want to hire women that want to be like men, we have enough men as it is. I want to hire women that are very good at being women, meaning, living in the strengths that we as men don’t possess. Another benefit to this dynamic is that men can be men because the feminine side of the human dynamic is being handled by the experts. Again we (men and women) are created to complement one another and when we hire the best of both sexes we can change the culture without even trying.

We Don’t Need More Diversity Training…We Need More Leadership Training

I have noticed over my short 19+ year career that the cultural change question is a very consistent theme and it seems our tendency is to ask the question, but never do anything different to fix the culture or I should say positively mature or grow the culture. Even if we do try to make the needed change it is met with a huge opposing force and fails. One of the reasons most solutions are “dead on arrival” is because change is always met with resistance and we don’t really understand why.  Perhaps we humans resist change because it represents a loss.

Losses of any kind generate mourning, and when change is brought we mourn. What are we mourning? We are mourning the loss of the old way. If you don’t believe me just listen to the kitchen table to talk dufire_chief 1ring the next change project in your department. Even if we originally hated the old way we will still mourn changing to a new one.

So change has a better chance of living past the “roll out” if we “set it up”  for success through recognizing key vital behaviors, using opinion leaders to champion it, and employing all the sources of influence to get others to behave as those that are doing it best.  Then change takes care of it self.

There are at least six sources influence that I have found. You can find these sources of influence in two books, Influencer and
Change Anything
. My first concept fits in two of the six sources of influence which are “personal motivation and personal ability” (promoting more mature company officers and building on it with objective-based coaching/accountability).

The second one fits in the source called “structural ability” (hiring professional women with a goal to have one on every crew). Professional women will change the structure and dynamics of the team for the better [and] therefore change the culture over time.

Warwick Fire Department OldA third concept is to remember that we are the culture.  Meaning, the individual firefighter attains positive change personally that in turn positively changes the crew and eventually the entire culture is changed. This can happen and has in the negative direction as well and that is proof that the power of one is influential on a culture. Now, I humbly believe that these suggestions can aid in positive culture change because they all challenge the person to grow.

Sounds simple doesn’t it?  Maybe it is.  I challenge you all (myself included) as people to spend more time growing yourself and less time fighting the “three-headed monster” that is “fire service culture” and then see what we look like in a few years.

What do we have to lose, except our broken culture?

See Related

BUILDING A CASE FOR AN INCLUSIVE AND DIVERSE VOLUNTEER FIRE SERVICE PART 2

BUILDING A CASE FOR AN INCLUSIVE AND DIVERSE VOLUNTEER FIRE SERVICE PART 3

BUILDING A CASE FOR AN INCLUSIVE AND DIVERSE VOLUNTEER FIRE SERVICE PART 4

The Author

Branden Huskey PhotoBranden Husky is a Captain serving with the City of Goodyear (AZ) Fire Department.  Captain Husky first joined the department as a volunteer in 1992 and became a full-time career member in 1995.  Captain Husky earned his Associates Degree in Fire Science and Firefighting from Phoenix College.  He and his wife and their three children make their home in the Goodyear area.

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