Coping With UFOs
I live and work in the Greater Washington D. C., Metropolitan area. We are the center of the universe for acronyms (DHS, DEA, DOD, HSPD). Oh My God. We couple this condition with the social network acronyms and you have a new language. So it is not a shocker that yet another acronym has surfaced here. UFO (legacy acronym) is now short for unforeseen occurrences. Online dictionaries refer to terms such as atypical, extraordinary, incomparable, matchless etc., to describe “unforeseen occurrences”.
So what’s my point? As chief executive officers of emergency response organizations, we can assume that shocking unforeseen occurrences will happen under our watch. What are we talking about here? Let me give you an example. While serving as fire chief, I was enjoying a fairly productive day in my office. I happen to notice in my peripheral vision, a firefighter standing at the door. The firefighter has tears streaming down her face and closes the door. She walks over to my desk, leans over and admits that she has just lied to our internal affairs officer during a taped interview regarding her drug use while on duty. So here I am, by myself, in a closed door discussion, in which a subordinate member has just admitted to a violation of our regulations and a potential felony.
On another occasion I was in command of a working fire in a general goods store that was an old frame, one story building, about 75 feet by 80 feet. We had plenty of water, personnel, apparatus and equipment. We deployed two 1-¾ inch and one 2-½ inch hose lines to the interior. Two aerial companies were deployed to ventilate the roof. I have established command on the A side of the building. A little more than five minutes into the incident, I see that the fire is actually increasing in severity. I pull the Operations Branch manager back to command and do a quick walk around. I see cracks in and around cinder blocks, heavy grayish/black smoke pushing out of the eves of the structure. There is no way this condition should be occurring. Eight hundred gallons per minute into this structure with two ladder companies venting is a knock out, slam dunk win for the firefighters.
Two very diverse, but for certain, UFOs. Managers, officers, fire chiefs, EMS command officers routinely face occurrences similar to those we just discussed. So how do we prepare for “UFOs”? Experience and learning from your experiences serves as great preparation. Here are some other suggestions in preparing for UFOs:
- Reading and learning from how other leaders have responded to similar occurrences
- Staying current with good corporate management
- Exercising delegation of authority and responsibility and good organizational structure
- Promoting only high performers and good citizens into positions of responsibility
- Know the law and staying current with court decisions
- Insisting on high standards of skills, knowledge and education in you staff
- Supporting and funding training at all levels of the organization
- Knowing your community and it’s associated risks
- Knowing local political leaders and agency heads with power
- Keeping and eye on the future
- Maintaining a current disaster plan
- Understanding legacy, contemporary building construction and associated codes
- Knowing fire and chemical release behavior
High performing leaders and organizations concentrate on the strategic view while at the same time focusing on the details. Corporate management is complicated and demands that we possess ability to respond to unforeseen occurrences with measured responses that are well conceived and based on sound judgement.
That is what I have been thinking. Just my view.
Linda (the wife) and I wish you a happy, healthy, safe and successful 2011.
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