Inside The Hall
Dispatches: Welcoming newcomers
By Jennifer Grigg
My family recently relocated to a new home in Marathon, Ont., where my husband accepted a position as their new fire chief. It was a move that required four pickup trucks and three trailers to make a 975 km relocation from our previous home. Before you ask why we didn’t rent a truck, we did. The problem was that it started out as a 26-foot and was continuously downsized by the rental company until we ended up with a 10-foot truck as the only available option – but that’s another story.
The day I’m writing this marks our first week here together (my husband had been here for a month while I stayed back to deal with the sale of our house) and, to be honest, I’ve handled this transition with far less grace than I would’ve liked.
I joked that it was the “Canadian version of Survivor” where you’re uprooted and dropped into a freezing northern town, knowing no one, and without internet or cable during a pandemic. And, just for added fun, your puppy barks nonstop as he adapts to his new environment.
As much as I can laugh about it now, I definitely wasn’t laughing initially. I was struggling. I found it hard to let go of the life we had and embrace the life we’re now in. I missed my family, my friends, familiar surroundings and established routines. My husband had his new colleagues but I felt quite alone without my friends or family here.
However, awareness is everything. Having the ability to recognize when you’re not in a good place is the first and possibly most important step in climbing out of it. Realizing that my current perspective wasn’t serving me and knowing the dangers of isolation, as someone who suffered from depression in the past, I knew enough to know I had to act.
So, I turned to the one tool that’s kept us all connected while physical distancing: social media. I reached out on the Marathon community Facebook page and posted that I was new in town and curious to know what people loved about living here. The response I received was simply amazing.
I received tons of comments welcoming me to the town, residents happily sharing examples of the abundance of natural beauty and outdoor adventures to go on and offers of assistance if we needed anything. It warmed my heart. I’ve never felt so supported or accepted by a community of strangers.
This got me thinking. I hope it’s the same way in your fire department. Whether it’s full-time, composite or volunteer, the way you welcome new members (regardless of rank) says a lot about you and the culture of the organization.
Some people find it easy to fit into and welcome others into a new environment, which is awesome. You make the world a brighter place. However, for others, it’s harder for them to find their bearings in a new environment and, on occasion, being a part of a tightly knit group that they’re reluctant to let outsiders in. I encourage you to work on creating an environment and culture that fosters open and easy communication. If you already have gaps in the transfer of information among members, think of the impact that will also have on new staff coming in.
Reach out to new members outside of the workplace and encourage involvement in community activities, especially if they’re new to the area as well as the department. As I learned in reaching out to my new community, connection and communication brings the outsider in. The sooner you connect with new members in an engaging and authentic way, the faster trust starts to build and trust is vital to success in a profession where lives are often put on the line.
- Well curated onboarding processes will assist with the transition, giving new members a clear set of expectations.
- Provide a list of resources, staff contact information and have computer/program passwords set up before their arrival
- Shoulder flashes, uniform apparel, boots, gloves and gear (most need to be measured to fit properly but these details could be secured in advance of their start date).
- Department T-shirts, caps, toques, jackets (less of a necessity but goes a long way to making new members feel part of the team)
- Introductions in person or via email to the rest of the staff members
Jennifer Grigg has been a dispatcher, volunteer firefighter, FPO inspector and instructor. She is now a resilience and empowerment coach and certified body language trainer. Contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org or jennifergriggcoaching.com.