By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
What is a fire service champion? In this post, I’ll provide a very illustrative case study that I trust will make the term crystal clear.
Last month, I wrote a piece about a firefighter who contacted me about what my thoughts were on the subject of when firefighters should don their SCBA facepiece and begin breathing air from the cylinder. In that blog, When Should You Don Your SCBA Facepiece?, I asked readers to submit their thoughts on the subject.
I got many good and thoughtful responses from readers via comments on LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as e-mail messages. I subsequently shared those comments with the firefighter in an e-mail message. In that message, I included the following counsel:
I understand completely your desire and enthusiasm for making firefighting safer, especially with you being so new to the fire service. Very commendable!
Now for some guidance and direction that I’ve learned from the “School of Hard Knocks” where I’ve earned a PhD. “Emotion always trumps logic. Logic never trumps emotion.”
What that means is that you’ll never “win over” fire service people to your position by presenting facts and figures, aka, logic. I believe this is especially true for “newbies” like yourself; and being a woman in the fire service just amplifies the dynamics. Not right, not fair, and it is reality.
But fear not! You and your “small group” can be successful, and here are some “tips of the trade”:
- You’ve taken the first step by seeking out subject matter experts like me. Keep that going through your connections on LinkedIn and from the feedback that we might get from my blog post.
- Identify and cultivate a “champion” in your department, someone who has respect and followers in the department who can help you bring your ideas forward while ensuring that you get the credit. The reality is that in your current position (firefighter, newbie, and woman) you’re in no position to champion your own ideas regardless of how many followers you have. See my post on the topic, Women and Minorities in the Fire Service Need Champions.
- Give yourself plenty of time! I understand your sense of urgency (particularly since someone has already suffered the consequences from lack of a SOG), but you should be realistic: this ain’t your circus, and these ain’t your monkeys.
It’s going to take time for you to follow Steps 1 and 2, and I get the sense that you’re going to want to be “in this” (being a participating and productive member of the department) for the long term. So don’t get in such a hurry to achieve a short-term “win” (with the odds currently against you) that you spoil your future prospects.
A Fire Service Champion Steps Forward
So, just the other day I received the following message from that original firefighter:
Hey! I just wanted to drop a line to say hello, and thank you for all the help that you gave me.
I took your advice to heart. I have played it safe in taking my time in building a case with my “partners in crime” (our loving and sarcastic term of endearment to each other) in regards to getting a SOG in place for our SCBAs.
I also approached someone who has been with the department for about 25 years that I’ve known and trusted forever (or so it seems), to be our champion in this. It was my own BC. I told him that I was terrified that what I was presenting would “ruffle some feathers” and that it would cost me my position because I was a newbie.
But I also told him that I trusted in him as a friend and as my BC, and hoped that he knew that I was coming to him with a serious concern for our department, not only as a FF, but as someone who was willing to put the time and effort into researching this matter out well before presenting it to him.
We discussed it at length, verbalizing different scenarios, him asking me the questions that those in department would ask, particularly those who are opposed to changes like this. I’m proud to say that your help gave me the fortitude to anticipate what some of those questions were, and I was able to give him a convincing argument by acknowledging both sides of the coin, but by showing why my position was stronger for the department.
He agreed with me, and agreed to take it to the Chiefs meeting next month to start discussion on it. We agreed that it is going to be presented as a concern of his, and several others on his battalion, so that nothing will fall back on me for being a newbie.
Thank you. I am very grateful for your help and guidance.
I applaud that BC, whomever he or she may be, because they are a fire service champion. And champions are what our younger firefighters need if we’re going to maximize our use of their thoughts, ideas, and talents to keep moving the fire service forward in the 21st century.