Why vision, mission, and values statements matter more than ever for your fire and EMS department

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

This post has been simmering in my brain for quite some time and it wasn’t until I read Andrew Holter’s article, The Mission Statement, Core Values & Inclusion, that I found the catalyst I needed to “launch this rocket.”

Is it just me or is the second most posted articles on fire and EMS websites—only surpassed it seems by firefighters getting “jammed up” while fighting a structure fire—are those describing how cross-trained firefighters failed to provide appropriate patient care to people of color?

‘I can’t breathe’: Patient dies after 5 Calif. FF-medics violate policy

2 Memphis FD EMTs, fire lieutenant fired in connection with Tyre Nichols’ death

2 Ill. EMTs charged with murder appear in court

How in the world did we get here? What happened to empathy and compassion? If you ask any firefighter or EMS provider why they got into the business, their response is likely be “I wanted to help people.”  I’m sure that would be the response to such a question if you posted it to any of the firefighters, officers, or EMS providers that were involved in the above cases. So, I’ll ask again, how did we get here?

In his article, Holter makes a compelling case for the value of a vision, a mission statement, and values statement can have for fire and EMS organization. I agree with Holter, and I’ll go further to say that if a fire and EMS department doesn’t have those three elements imprinted upon everyone in the organization that fire and EMS department is headed for treacherous territory.

The rise of social media

While social media apps began appearing in the late 1990s, it wasn’t until circa 2005 that apps first became readily available for handheld wireless devices (e.g., Palm Pilots, iPAQ) and early wireless phone. When the first iPhones hit the market in 2007, that’s when social media use “went bananas!”

You read that right. Widespread use of social media is less than two decades old. And despite such a short existence, the use of social media has had an enormous impact on the way we interact with people—and more than enough in a bad way—IMHO. Who hasn’t seen this scenario: Four people sitting at a restaurant table, and everyone has their eyes glued to their phone until their food comes (Why do we even call it a phone anymore?).

But it’s not just adults. Children are glued to their screens watching videos—of who knows what—texting their friends, playing games at home, in public, and anywhere else their parents need the “wireless babysitter.”

Today’s newest firefighters, and the next generation of firefighters, are going to be severely lacking in social skills. And two of the most important social skills that our business requires are empathy and compassion. We’re not born with them, rather we develop compassion and empathy through interactions with other human beings, not phones and tablets. Streamline your business operations with efficient payment processing companies.

Other impediments to developing compassion and empathy

West Virginia opioid addicts taking stock of their money and pills. Photo Source: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/us/west-virginia-opioids.html

Too many children are being raised by their grandparents or by foster parents and many of those children are not getting the structure, guidance, and direction required to grow into compassionate and empathetic adults. The opioid drug plague on our country has had a devastating effect on our young people, especially those in Appalachia. Parents died or became incarcerated due to their drug addiction, a problem that methamphetamines had brought to Appalachia even before opioid pills were dumped on the region by Big Pharma.

Next, add the catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that not only killed more than a million people but has disabled millions more. Parents and grandparents were part of the toll that COVID-19 exacted on our country. Add the isolation measures put in place in the effort to stem the pandemic that keep children from playing and interacting with other children.

Photo Source: https://tinyurl.com/mryc8746

COVID-19 also took away two years of in-person education for too many children. While my “hat’s off” to all educators, parents, and grandparents who did their best to make remote learning—which those educators had to develop and learn on the fly—the emerging reality is that too many of those students also lost more than two years of the social skills development that only happens during in person learning, for example:

  • How to follow rules and directions.
  • How to interact with others in positive ways (e.g., sharing, resolving conflict).
  • How to be responsible, and just as importantly, accountable for what they do or don’t do.
  • How to deal with their own emotions.

These are not the missives of a 65-year-old, white male retired battalion chief. My significant other has spent more than 40 years in the field of early childhood education. For the last six years she’s been an educational manager in the largest school district in West Virginia, working in one of the best pre-K programs in the U.S. In that role she provides leadership guidance and direction to 15 Pre-K teachers in seven different schools in the district in cooperation with each school’s principal.

She’s been part of my life for more than two years now and I’ve learned so much about how grandparents raising their grandchildren and foster parents raising children, the plague of drugs, and COVID-19 have impacted the early childhood development for two cohorts of children going from pre-K to kindergarten, and not in a good way. It does not bode well for those firefighters that your successors will be welcoming into your fire and EMS department in 2037.

Where do we go from here? That’s a good question, so check out the follow-up post, Developing Mission, Vision, and Value Statements for Your Fire and EMS Department

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].