Establishing a Safety Climate through Leadership

Leadership can be defined as how we as fire chiefs influence our fire departments to achieve a common goal.

So isn’t it our job as fire chiefs to influence our members in everything our organizations do?

Shouldn’t we champion residential fire sprinklers in our communities by having them in our own homes? Shouldn’t we be the biggest proponent of higher education by making sure we have not only a bachelor's degree, but also a master's degree? Shouldn’t we be the ones pushing the need for interoperability by making sure we regularly train with the other public safety disciplines in our community?

So then, isn’t it important that we constantly set an example for a safe and healthy workforce?

As the fire chiefs, it's our duty and responsibility to make sure everything we do in our organizations is conducted with the safety, survival, health and wellness of our fire department members in mind. Gone are the days when you can send firefighters to search an untenable fire building and not expect someone to second-guess your reasons for doing so.

We all have a duty to serve the public we're sworn to protect; so too as fire chiefs do we have the duty to protect the members of our organizations. It can't be just talk; it's our actions that speak louder than words.

It's the core values of the organization that we are directly impacting with our actions that will set our fire department’s safety climate going forward. Our departments' safety climate is the stuff that is actually happening in the organization when it comes to the safety, survival, health and wellness of your members, not what you think is happening. (See M. Leiter, Developing a Safety Climate: Shared Assumptions and Interventions, 2010.)

But what can we do to make sure what we're saying and doing is actually working in our organizations when it comes to the safety of our members? How do you know what the safety climate of our organizations actually is?

To start with, we can ask our members. Don't just assume that because you think something's a good idea, everyone else will also. Work though your chief officers, your company officers, and your safety and health committee to find the pitfalls in your safety program. Identify where the gaping holes exists and then fix them.

Remember, we tend to put our money on things that we think are important. So if your words state your safety program is important, then show it with your actions by putting your money where your mouth is.

Also, do not assume that just because an idea about your safety program comes from a firefighter with just a few years on the job and not a company officer or a chief officer that it has no validity. Due to the economic environment of recent years, more and more of our firefighters have come from important private-sector positions into the fire department due to the stability generally granted in this business. Those ideas that they are bringing forward may have already been implemented very successfully in the private sector. Therefore, listen to them.

Next, don't accept mediocrity when it comes to your members' actions. Mediocrity leads to laziness and laziness leads to accidents or even deaths. When your people are training, make sure they train exactly how they fight. Make sure that they cover the basics such as how to properly don their protective clothing, how to properly carry a ladder and how to properly set up a ventilation fan. And then when you participate with them, make sure that you do it properly too. Remember that you will be the one they are watching to see what they can get away with. Your actions in setting the safety climate will go along ways to the overall success of your employees and their health and wellness. In fact, it will set the tone for the safety culture.

Lastly, remember that you are not doing this just for them. You are doing it for the people who count on them the most – their family. This includes both their fire department family and their immediate family. No one comes to the fire station never expecting to return home at the end of his or her tour of duty, so it should be your number-one priority to make sure they leave the firehouse with all the same number of attached appendages they came with at the start of their shift.

We do have a duty to protect each member just like we have a duty to protect the public. So make sure you follow through with your responsibility. Set the climate through leadership! Be safe!

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