Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Front Seat: Address success

Jason Clark   

Features Hot Topics Leadership

Every morning I get into my vehicle, turn the key and, due to years of engineering behind the internal combustion engine, my ride starts up and I’m on my way. I then drop in at the local coffee shop, where pleasant and observant staff start making my regular order before I reach for the change in my pocket. I never think about saying “Sue, the coffee process is running top-notch today.” Maybe I should.

Photo: Dreamstime As firefighters

Generally, we think our about day-to-day routines only when something goes awry – when the truck breaks down on the way to work, or that desperately needed medium double-double turns out to be an unappealing decaf single-single. And when things go awry – even the don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff things – we want someone to know, so we rant to our spouses, co-workers, or on social media to everyone we’ve come in contact with since Grade 6.

This type of reactionary behaviour got me thinking about the fire service and the calls to which we respond. Do we let our crew members know when they are doing a great job? Or do we focus on the stop-bad mindset and fail to emphasize the good things we accomplish on scene? I’m not saying every time a crew member successfully backs a truck into a bay without clipping a mirror we should give out gold stars and throw a party; it’s more subtle than that.  

We let our crew members know when they do something incorrect or unsafe – it comes with the territory as a supervisor or fire officer. But we need to make sure we put more positive energy into telling members that yes, they did the jobs they signed up for and were expected to do – but they did an outstanding job.  

Some examples:
I go on a structure-fire call and the pump operator I ride with to the scene has the hose charged for the crew members as soon as they call for water. So I tell the pump operator, “Things were hectic off the start with people screaming that their shop was on fire, but you kept us in sight and you got us water the instant we called for a charge on the line.”   


Having responded to the worst car accident I’ve experienced with the fire service, I remember the rescue and supporting crews doing an exceptional job. The power-pack and extrication tools were off the rig, the road was blocked off in both directions, and the jaws were operating minutes after I said “We’re cutting, we have someone trapped.” While the crew members who were working the jaws and cutters were gaining all the glory for performing extrication, I noticed a rookie had the car stabilized and cribbed 30 seconds prior; that rookie might not get any praise because cribbing and stabilization are expected to be completed, but his role was as important that of his colleagues. Let your people know when they do good work, that they’re doing good work.

When we lead from the front, I think it is important to do a walk-around and talk with crew members after the call and let them know that they did everything they could to help the stabilize the incident. This may also be the time that crew members, as students of the fire service, may have questions about some of the things that unfolded on the call; getting some one-on-one time will be beneficial for crews and for you.    

Something positive happens every time the tone drops and responders start arriving on scene; on complex and stressful scenes, there are many working parts and tasks that need to be accomplished. I look back at some scenes and think, “that really went well given what was thrown at us.”    

The reason things go well is simple: because we work in team environments with highly trained emergency responders including paramedics, police officers, firefighters and members of mutual-aid departments. These women and men constantly blow my mind by exceeding expectations, training extensively and knowing their jobs inside and out, and getting the job done. The next time you’re on scene with your crews – or your morning caffeine hit turns out exactly as you ordered – say thank you. 

Jason Clark has been a volunteer firefighter in southwestern Ontario since 2007. Having recently made the transition to captain from firefighter, Clark has a new perspective on riding in the front seat  . @jacejclark

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