Your Fire Department And Its Value Based Decision Making

Your Fire Department And Its Value Based Decision Making

What Does Your Fire Department “Believe” In? – Values Based Decision-Making

02SaturdayFeb 2013

By Chris Langlois
It’s not hard to make decisions, when you know what your values are”- Roy Disney  How do we make decisions in the fire service, on and off the fireground? Think back throughout your life. Has anyone ever told you that when you are in a sticky social situation and you don’t know what to do, you should think back and ask yourself, “What would my mother want me to do in this situation”? Why is that? It’s because your mother taught you values. She probably taught you things like honesty, kindness and respect for others, things she believed in strongly and passed on to you. She knew that she would not always be standing by your side to tell you what to do and that there would always be outside pressures from other sources both good and bad influencing your decisions, so she instilled a set of values in you and expected you to make everyday decisions based on those values. If you think about it, everyday decisions based on those values taught to you by your mother were relatively easy to make, either something was right or it wasn’t. Knowing what to do may have been easy, but acting on those values is often difficult. It’s easy to know what the right thing is, but often takes courage to actually do it.        Everything we do in the fire service consists of decisions. In an effort to “always stand by your side and tell you what to do” (something even your mother knew would not be possible), fire departments often become very policy and procedure based organizations. Many departments have volumes and volumes of written policies and standard operating procedures. However, what if you are faced with a situation (on the fireground or in the station) for which there is no current policy or procedure? What if the policy/procedure is not appropriate for the situation you find yourself in? Often, policies are written based on something someone did. Someone screwed up, but at the time, there was no policy specifically addressing what they did, so one is written in an effort to keep everyone else from doing the same thing again. There are also (as your mother knew) many outside influences, good and bad that affect our decision-making everyday. We can’t write a policy/procedure for every decision our people might have to make, especially those on the fireground, so there has to be a better way, a way that makes us all better.            Many decisions are made everyday by fire service personnel at all levels. For instance:
  • A young firefighter must decide whether to thoroughly check his SCBA in the morning, or just assume it’s probably ok. After all, it’s his turn to cook breakfast and the rest of the crew is growling about being hungry.

    A company officer must decide whether to conduct the daily training drill with her company or just document they did the drill.

  • A fire chief must decide whether to promote his friend to a high-ranking position within the department based purely on their friendship, or to seek to promote the best-qualified person for that position from an objective point of view.
Does everything have to be a written policy or procedure, or can we empower our personnel to make decisions based on what the department believes in? Does your department give you a set of core values and then allow you to make decisions based on them? Organizational core values are those things that are so important that they will not be compromised for any reason, at any time.            In earlier articles, we discussed MISSION- What we do and why we exist (To create excellent outcomes). We also talked about VISION- Wherethe department is going and what do we want to become (a picture of the organization’s optimal future). VALUES tell us how we get there. They tell us how the fire department’s leadership wants us to behave and how they want us to go about achieving the everyday mission and move closer toward the vision. Values give us a framework to make everyday decisions.            Three common core values that are often professed by organizations such as fire departments or branches of the military are Duty, Honor and Courage:
  • Duty- To serve others, fulfill the responsibilities of your position and a dedication to constant improvement.
  • Honor- Honesty, integrity, doing the right thing for the right reason.
  • Courage- Not only physical courage, but also the moral courage to always do the right thing.
            Let’s look back at our three decision situations to see how making those decisions are much easier when they are made in line with these three core values:The Firefighter and the SCBA
  • Duty, Honor and Courage compel the firefighter to check his SCBA properly because it is his job to do so and his duty to himself, the other firefighters and the public they all serve. It is the right thing to do even though he may have to endure a few hunger complaints from the other crewmembers.
The Company Officer and the Training Drill
  • Duty, Honor and Courage compel the officer to not only conduct the drill, but to conduct an effective drill that realistically prepares her firefighters to accomplish the mission. It is her duty to those firefighters and the public, and it is the right thing to do. Those core values also instill the courage to step up and motivate her crew to train, even though they really don’t want to. The easiest thing for the officer to do would be to skip the drill and avoid the hassle of a conflict as well as running the unpleasant risk of her crew “not liking her” for a while, but it would not be the courageous thing to do.
The Fire Chief and the Promotion
  • Duty, Honor and Courage compel the Fire Chief to objectively evaluate each candidate for the promotion objectively. It is the Chief’s duty to the department and the public to promote the best person possible. Doing the right thing means putting friendship and personal feelings aside. It also means having the courage to promote someone who will always tell the Chief the truth and be willing to tell the Chief “no” when that answer is appropriate, no matter how unpleasant the situation, rather than promote a “friend” who might take the easy route by telling the Chief only what he thinks the Chief wants to hear. It also takes courage to risk a friendship as a result of doing the right thing, but if that is the case, is it really a true friendship?
            Core values guide your decisions. They make it clear to everyone, from the Fire Chief to the newest probie, which behaviors are acceptable and which are not, and they must be shared and acted on by everyone. This will tend to lead a department away from a strict policy-based organization and move it towards a values-based organization. In a true values-based organization there is only one boss, the organization’s values.Values Compressed            Often when the concept of values-based decision-making comes up, many people are concerned about making a wrong decision, and then being disciplined for that wrong decision, even if it was made with the best of intentions. We can always strive to do the best we can, but wrong decisions are going to happen, especially on the fireground. My answer is to be prepared to justify your decision, based on an overriding core value. A decision was made, based on the information at the time (which on the fireground can often be very little or inaccurate information), the situation that was being confronted, and your organization’s core values. In a true values-based organization, the fire department leadership should be prepared to support the decisions of the firefighters and officers if they were made within the organization’s core values. After all, it was the fire department leadership that empowered those firefighters and officers to make those hard, right values-based decisions. It is much better to make a decision, based on a core value and the information at hand at the time, rather than not be able to make a decision because you don’t know what the written policy/procedure says, or there is no policy/procedure for the situation you are facing.            So, what are your department’s core values? Does it have any that it has shared with you? If so, are they only framed words hanging on the wall or posted on the department’s website? Core values MUST BE LIVED everyday by everyone in the organization, especially the leaders. A values-based organization is not just another program or policy; it is a way of life!

Gloria Ronca Headshot
Phone: 914-582-6003
Dated: August 27th 2014
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