By Timothy E. Sendelbach
Published Thursday, September 27, 2012
| From the October 2012 Issue of FireRescue
Firefighters by nature are known to be very competitive, and I’m by no means an exception. I’ve always been up for a physical challenge.
Last December, I completed my first Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon in Las Vegas. To celebrate my accomplishment, I posted a picture on Facebook. Caught up in the adrenaline rush, I signed up for the Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon, which was scheduled a mere 30 days later in Phoenix, making me eligible to earn the “Desert Double Down” medal. And come January, I did indeed “double down” in Arizona.
Once again, I shared my achievement with a post on Facebook; this time; I included a post-race photo of myself proudly displaying my two medals. Over the next couple of days, I received a number of messages congratulating me on my accomplishment from friends, family and colleagues. Then came the challenge. A fellow firefighter and friend wrote, “Congrats on completing another marathon; you should try doing a triathlon.” Having fully recovered from my post-race hypoxia, I quickly responded, “Thanks but no thanks! I think I’ll stick with running marathons.”
A few days later, like a prolonged firehouse kitchen table conversation, another firefighter friend raised the stakes, this time with a triathlon date and location. I caved to the peer pressure and accepted the challenge. Nine months later, I’m now financially committed and officially addicted to endurance-based training and triathlons. Thanks guys—I needed an excuse to put another iron in the fire!
So what does this have to do with the fire service? It’s about accepting personal and organizational challenges—and measuring our successes.
For the last nine months, I’ve been consumed with things like cadence, maximum heart rate, nutrition planning, brick workouts, run splits, etc. These are common terms in the triathlon world and they’re used to measure and/or enhance your performance. They’ve become my daily road maps for training, and hopefully the path to my eventual success.
Similarly, as a ranking officer serving in the halls of fire administration (viewed by some as the land of paper cuts and calculators), I’ve been thrust into a world of statistical data and key performance indicators. In all my years in the fire service, I never once dreamed of counting responses, or evaluating turnout times, but today, statistics like these are what drives the decisions administrators must eventually make.
Much like triathlon training, the fire service is quickly becoming more and more focused on numbers and performance indicators. If we can’t prove it with the numbers, it’s likely to fall on deaf ears or fall prey to the budget axe. To be a true competitor in this budget endurance event, we must ask ourselves, what are we doing to improve our performance and the performance of our crews?
Unfortunately, some within our ranks seem to believe that the path to success teeters on the risky proposition of an election. A far better approach would be to build the support of a collective a “fan base” (i.e., the citizens we’re sworn to protect) that chooses to arm its team with the resources it needs to achieve a championship-level performance, regardless of the race day conditions.
It’s a whole lot easier to defend our position when we have the statistics to quantify and qualify our record of exemplary service. To that end, we should all be asking ourselves some questions: Are we using every opportunity to enhance our performance and that of our crew? Are we tracking our training hours to quantify our levels of proficiency? Are we documenting our responses and capturing the critical facts of every incident? Are we scrutinizing our turnout times to ensure our crews get out the door consistently and in a timely manner? Are we making sure that we take the shortest route to a specified address (regardless of call type), thus limiting response times? And most importantly, are we tracking and working to improve our average set-up time for our most common responses—car fires, structure fires and vehicle extrications?
As fire service leaders today, it’s become clear that we can no longer rely on our past successes. We must constantly raise the bar and track our performance while continuously working to improve our knowledge, skills and abilities in every aspect of our job.
The financial and political race we continue to face is not going to be won by a breakaway sprint, but rather a steady, ongoing, well-documented path of continuous improvement. Fortunately, as firefighters, we not only have the strength to run this marathon, but the competitive nature to ensure we win it.
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