Measuring Climate

You’ll hear an awful lot of gibberish out there about your organization’s morale, culture, and leadership, but how much of it can you really measure outside of hyperbole and hearsay? Every firefighter in your department will give you a different perspective, outside of banal groupthink around a kitchen table, about what morale, culture, and leadership actually are; you could create entirely new heuristics around these “metrics.” Although these are tough to measure, they should be analyzed in a constructive manner to determine your organization’s climate; popular opinion is perspective—whether you like it or not. And like Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist’s famous description of pornography when this polarizing social topic hit the courts, “I can’t describe it, but you know it when you see it,” those who work in our fire departments know what good and bad morale is, what good and bad culture is, and who the good and bad leaders are.

See What's Inside the December 2017 Issue

As Chief Reginald Freeman discusses in this month’s issue, climate becomes the precursor to culture. I agree, as we tend to focus on culture’s undesirable and consequential outcomes rather than what led said culture to form and persist. This month, we tackle some of the variables that shape climate and, hence, culture. There are many reasons climate can be inclement or sunny, but unless continued attention is paid to the independent variables, any organization can end up flying too close to the sun. Freeman’s article creates the foundation for us. Find out how he is making leadership decisions in a 153-year-old institution and how you can too.

Anthony Correia asks us to consider why we still have our members administer and say the oath in our departments. We all take the “oath of office” when we show up the first day by raising our right hands, knowing that the fire academy staff owns us the second we drop our hand back to our sides; however, we must make sure that this oath has the value it had on day one for the rest of our careers. Correia describes why it’s important to have the entire organization become part of the process of crafting its oath. When crafting this oath, any department knows who it’s crafting it for: the citizenry. Steve Marsar took this oath many years ago and has not forgotten its virtues and ethos. How so? Just take a look at his offering this month on doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. He helps us understand that we don’t just take an oath; we drive around in it all day for all to see, so put it to good use!

Perhaps nothing rings louder than the truths and consequences of accepted behavior when discussing an organization’s climate. This becomes the key precursor to culture, and as one of our trusted voices in the PennWell Fire Group, Andy Stumpf says, “What you allow in your presence is your standard.” I’m not just referring to the bad apples in our jobs—we know their act and how to handle them, especially bullies—but how we manage ourselves as individuals to develop climate and culture. Candice McDonald takes on the bullies by showing what they really look like—everyone. Bullying isn’t just seeing who the onionskins are at the kitchen table but those who exhibit (passive) aggressive behaviors of all kinds and what they end up doing to our organizations.

Brandon Green asks if we’re treating our apparatus and equipment better than ourselves as fit and capable firefighters. There’s so much that goes into maintaining apparatus and equipment that we schedule it and write the checklists down. This is perhaps one of the seminal questions of contemporary firefighting, because we have solutions to maintaining both. If you can’t honestly answer this question, read Green’s article, and take care of your equipment and the people who operate it.

Regardless of your diet and fitness level (risk), the public expects you to be ready and aggressive at taking care of their emergencies. David Rhodes teaches us what this really means and the different interpretations of this banal term in the fire service.

It’s time to get aggressive with our health and operations in a safe manner, because we operate in a very complex and high-risk environment. Paul Shapiro describes a very aggressive WUI tactic called “Anchor and Hold” to defend urban homes threatened by wildfire moving from house to house. This is a complex operation that requires tremendous coordination to get the limited water we have to the right place at the right time.

We have to understand the mental health and wellness consequences of our job, regardless of the climate or culture we create and operate in. In Jacob Oreshan III’s open letter on mental health to responders, he says what to look for once we’ve returned to quarters and start processing what we just went through. Don’t ignore your duty to treat others with respect or your overall health and wellness, as they’re all part of the climate we all make—and the culture that it becomes.

Thank you all for another great year at FireRescue. On behalf of the publisher, editors, and staff, we thank you for your continued support. Have a great holiday season and New Year!

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