By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
I recently read another good piece from my fellow contributor to FireEMS1.com, Linda Willing, on the subject of wireless devices and their adverse impact on team building and camaraderie in the fire station.
My questions begin with: Where’s the leadership? When did it become acceptable for the “tail to wag the dog”? When did the individual become more important than the team?
When a firefighter or officer reports for duty at the beginning of their shift they are no longer on “their time.” They are now on the time of whoever is paying their salary. Time during their shift spent on work or activity that’s not directly linked to the job they’ve been hired for is…fraud.
You read right. I just wrote that if firefighters and officers are not spending their time on duty in the fire stations preparing themselves mentally and physically to do their job they’re taking money (their pay) under false pretenses.
If they’re spending their time in the fire station on social media connecting with friends, family or whomever instead of doing whatever is necessary hone their knowledge, skills, and abilities to do their job safely, effectively, and efficiently, they are engaging in fraudulent activity.
It also means that they’re not being true to the spirit of what it means to be a firefighter. That spirit includes qualities such as service before self; having each other’s back when things get “rough”; and being able to think critically and respond to problems and situations, aka, “keep your head on straight when everyone else’s are becoming unscrewed.”
I know this is going to sound unbelievable, but when I worked in a fire station for 24 hours me and Mrs. Avsec only spoke by telephone one time during that 24 hours. I would call her at exactly 2100 hours (9:00 p.m.) to let her know I was OK and to ask about her day. That’s it, one phone call. (It was common knowledge with my co-workers that if Mrs. Avsec called any time before 2100 hours, you better find Mr. Avsec because something was really wrong).
For my money, there’s a very simple and uncomplicated solution to this intrusion of wireless technology our fire station environment. The supervisor sits down with all of their personnel and lays out the expectation that when personnel come on duty, their wireless devices go off duty. The talk goes something like this:
When you come to work each day, turn your wireless devices off, put them in your locker or lock them up in your car. If a family member needs to contact you in an emergency (and only for an emergency) have them call the fire station telephone number. If we’re not in quarters and nobody answers that telephone, have them call the Dispatch Center and the staff there will help get the message to you.
After our work day winds down for the day, usually after dinner and cleanup, I’ll give you the okay for you to bring out your wireless devices for your personal use. Those wireless devices, however, stay in the fire stations if we get a call for service.
We have an obligation to each other and the citizens who pay our salaries to have a clear focus on delivering the best emergency and non-emergency services possible. For us to do that, both individually and as a team, requires that we continuously learn. Learn about each other, learn about our strengths and weaknesses and how can we help each other to be better.
Learn about each other’s “baseline” personality and behaviors so that if the mental stresses of the job start having a negative impact on one of us, the rest of us will be the first to know so that we can help.
Learn how to use every piece of equipment on our engine (or truck) for its intended purpose, and a couple of other uses. Learn how to find each piece of equipment and use blindfolded (because your life or that of a team member may depend upon it one day).
I trust you get my message. What you need to know to be successful in this job is not on social media or on some website. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that can be learned through on-line training and education and that medium for training and education is getting better every day. But so long as firefighters get on fire trucks and head out to fight fires, extricate people from car crashes, treat heart attack victims, etc., there will be a need for strong, cohesive teams of men and women who know their jobs and know and trust each other with their lives.
And there’s no app for that.