If you know me you know I am an avid hockey fan and Chicago Blackhawks fan and usually when anything goes against rivaled St. Louis Blues, it generally makes me smile. However, it was comments made by St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong after the firing of longtime head coach Ken Hitchcock that really took me by surprise. Instead of airing dirty laundry about what one player may have thought about the coach or philosophical differences between upper management and the coaching staff, Armstrong took a much different approach and it’s one that caused me to think about my role as a fire chief and the men and women we hire.
“One of the things I’ve learned about being around St. Louis is the Cardinals,” Armstrong said. “They don’t have independent contractors. When they do, they get rid of them. We have a sense of independent contractors…we need to become a team again.” I found GM Armstrong’s comments to be quite relevant for the situation with the Blues and perhaps in many firehouses across the country. Whether your department is career or volunteer, a lack of teamwork can cause dysfunction in even the best organizations.
Each member brings a certain set of built-in skills when they come through the door. It may be their mechanical ability, engineering background, nursing, athletics or the military. If you have members with special skills which they bring into your organization, seize the opportunity to further develop those skills so they can spread their knowledge to others.
I have seen many cases where firefighters act individually and neglect the team. If a firefighter is more concerned about his/her outcomes, they become consumed by themselves and break away from the team. As a recruit training is essential in mastering core competencies. When I began my fire service career, my recruit class was larger than most. We had approximately 19 recruits and some of the Firefighter II curriculum came easier from some than others. What resonated with me was how the ones who “got it” with greater ease took time to pick up the others who were struggling. If all 19 recruits would have acted like independent contractors, some of the recruits would have most likely dropped out for not meeting academic standards, and more importantly, because they didn’t feel part of the team.
I worked for a battalion chief at one point in my career who tried to make me believe that the fire service has a place for individual effort. As much as I believe individual achievement is good, incorporating knowledge, skill and expertise into the team makes the individual great. When your department is looking for new members, ask yourself, “Is this person a team player or an independent contractor?” Demand teamwork; our profession doesn’t need spectators, but is always in need of solid teammates.