Front seat: Communication during the pandemic
By Jason Clark
The pandemic has changed the way we communicate with one another, especially as we are forced to adapt with the ever-changing environment we are currently going through. Many people have to work from home, learn from home, and somehow keep a normal sense of communication between multiple groups of people.
Since we are still unable to meet in person the way we once did, communication becomes something that we need to work on, and we had to make other arrangements to make that communication model work. If we could not find a solution to make it work, we usually just ended up putting things on hold like many groups did.
But we could not put the fire service on hold during this pandemic. Calls were still coming in, and we had to respond when the public needed us. At times, we changed our numbers to have less people in training environments or spaced out as well as we could.
A form of communication that we were already accustomed to, but also relied on more during the pandemic, is email. Everyone has a different form or style of email etiquette and ways to compose their thoughts. Some are formal and drawn out so they don’t miss any information, where others can be straight to the point and keep their message short and sweet.
Then, there are the ones who take short and sweet to a new level by forwarding information with the dreaded ‘For Your Information’ or ‘FYI’. If you are one of these communicators in the ‘FYI’ group, I am begging you, as a firefighter and a communications graduate, to re-evaluate your plan the next time you forward an email to your crew with ‘FYI-read below’ with no context, clarity, or call to action.
As much as I love talking about fire fighting, sometimes, we need to take a step back and discuss other life skills so we can become better leaders and firefighters. So, in a fire response analogy, this is the equivalent of the chief arriving in their vehicle before anyone else and saying to the first crew, “FYI, I’m on scene.” How about a call to action? How about a description of what you are seeing or what your expectations are for a successful outcome?
We want to build teams of great firefighters because those firefighters will eventually become our future leaders if the system is working correctly and we are helping build each other up.
Think of what has changed in your department over the last year and a half during the pandemic. How was that information presented to you? I bet if you think back far enough, you had at least one email or information session with pages of information to sift through with ‘FYI’ attached to it.
I get it, there is a lot of information coming down the pipe, and it is coming at a rapid pace. It is even coming from outside agencies who have a say in how we conduct business, such as public health and various other governing offices.
As fire officers, for us to do our job well and for those in the ranks below us to be successful, we need to do better at sifting through the information and develop key takeaways and expectations that we want to see for successful outcomes.
It is our job as fire officers to have set expectations for our crews. We cannot just pass off information to our firefighters and magically hope that they read our minds and come to the same set of goals or objectives.
We are often tasked with communicating to various groups, including our public. They expect clear information when we are working for them. Our firefighters are no different. In a fast-paced environment where information is changing constantly, we have to remember as officers that it is our job to sift through the information, find out what pertains to us specifically, and pass that on to our crews. This keeps us all on the same page and moving in the same direction.
Jason Clark has been a volunteer firefighter in southwestern Ontario since 2007. Having made the transition from firefighter to captain, Jason shares perspective on roles in the fire service and riding in the front seat. Contact Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jacejclark.