… Divided We Fall

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is a success.”


Division among public safety agencies and personnel is a cancer that will kill even the healthiest departments.  The “us vs. them” mindset–labor vs. management, firefighters vs. administration, shift vs. shift, fire vs. police–whatever the cause, it’s highly contagious and can have disastrous effects. As public safety responders, we must be united–as individuals, a crew, a battalion, an agency, and a public safety community; we must work together.

Unity is one of the greatest qualities of mankind. No firefighter, officer, or even chief can achieve what is to be achieved by the department as a whole. A department is strong whose leaders command together and a crew is strong whose members work together. Unity is important in every sphere of public safety–working together, having common goals, common terminology, unified leadership, and a shared drive for success.  Much like a sports team and its players, all of us in public safety have different skills, roles, and responsibilities.  When the day comes, “game day,” we will need to work together to accomplish a common mission as a team of public safety professionals unified in our approach, tactics, command, and goals. 

Photo: courtesy of author.

The dynamic threats we face today are significantly more complex than in years past.  Active assailant incidents, high-threat mass-casualty events, civil unrest, rioting, and threats against public safety all present significantly different and unique sets of challenges when compared to our standard EMS runs, bells-and-smells, motor vehicle accidents, or residential structure fires (not to say that each of those don’t present their own unique challenges). Public safety agencies across the nation are implementing standard operating procedures for responding to these high-threat events.  Fire departments and law enforcement agencies are finding it necessary to work together in an integrated response during these complex incidents. An example of this unity and integration can be seen in the collective approach by fire departments and law enforcement agencies to an active assailant incident as Rescue Task Force Teams. While law enforcement officers respond with the primary mission of eliminating the active threat in an aggressive and coordinated manner, fire/EMS agencies are integrating into that response, working cohesively to provide aid to the victims during the ongoing operations by law enforcement. This type of integrated response only works when there is a unified approach and an understanding of the operational roles and responsibilities of all agencies involved.  Agencies must be ready to respond to these threats collectively, because not planning and training for these events will find us fighting them together unprepared.

Photo: courtesy of author.

The teamwork required for this type of integrated response can be achieved, and it starts with training. Training is the number one source for building teams and reinforcing why they exist.  Providing multi-agency training that brings together different public safety disciplines is where understanding, competency, and enhancements happen.  We all know the effects of team-oriented training– clarification of roles and responsibilities, improves the process, improved accountability, execute more effectively, and so on. But in our world, there’s more than that. At times, the takeaway in a multi-agency training is more than just a better understanding of the subject matter.  These trainings offer us a chance to build relationships and trust, the ability to put a face with a name or a voice that we may often hear on the radio. It’s in these trainings where agencies and responders will start to come together.

The push for this starts at the top. The effectiveness of a unified response is largely dependent on the individual agency’s internal cohesiveness and leadership’s commitment to teamwork and unity. If an individual agency struggles with its own unity, how can it ever work effectively in a multi-agency response? When leadership and administration can effectively manage communication, collaborate, and gain consensus within the department, that’s when real progress and growth can begin. As a leader, unity within your department and within your local public safety agencies should be a high priority.  We cannot deny the importance of staying united as public safety responders. In the end, it’s not about “change.” It’s about integration. Believing in these words and acting accordingly can define an agency. “United we stand, divided we fall.”

Lt. Mark Litwinko is a 17-year veteran with the Fort Wayne (IN) Fire Department and currently serves as an engine company officer and medic in the Combat Operations Division. He is a member of the hazardous materials and water rescue Special Operations teams and serves as a tactical medic with Fort Wayne (IN) Police Departments Emergency Services Team. He has been a lead H.O.T instructor and classroom presenter for the past several years at FDIC International and teaches regularly for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, providing Rescue Task Force and TECC education throughout the state. He is also an instructor, affiliate faculty, and Pre-Hospital Trauma Committee member for the National Association of EMTs (NAEMT).

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