"If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."
—General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army
All families have good times and bad. Relationship problems, intrapersonal problems and, worst of all, family squabbles.
Our family—the family of the emergency services—is no different. We all go through it, good times and bad. In the current economy, many tell us to just tighten our belts—we'll get through this one. Some advocate cutting programs, with training usually being the first to go.
These lean times are here to stay. This isn't a battle, it's a campaign, and now is the time to reinvent ourselves. Stop the squabbling and the sniveling and forget who gets the credit; lean forward and move ahead.
Bergen County, N.J., is easy to find. We're located in the northeastern corner of New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York City. We're home to just under a million people and, on any given day, an incalculable number of visitors. And on any given day, an army of 10,000 first responders protects these residents and visitors. Just like any family, this army has its own difficulties and a few family squabbles.
The 1950s saw a change for new police officers in the county. The leaders began to realize they needed to standardize and formalize training. A few agencies started conducting joint recruit-training classes. Their comrades in the fire service started planning a training facility, and in the early 1960s, they broke ground on a few buildings typical for the era: a training tower, a smoke house, pit fires and fire training grounds.
The Fire Academy opened in 1965; soon after, police and fire began training together. In the 1970s, EMS joined. There were still separations between us—when chairs were ordered, they came segregated blue and red.
As we trained together, we bumped elbows from time to time, and this set us up for our worst day. On 9/11, we instantly became too busy to care who we bumped elbows with. We were in a fight together, always joined at the hip digging in piles, sifting thru white powder, honoring each other at funerals and memorial services.
The old mold had been broken.
Eleven years later, all three branches of emergency response continue to utilize a central philosophy for training under the flag of the Law and Public Safety Institute.
On any given day at the training grounds, you may see a full-blown MCI drill conducted across from the lifting and moving class while a university graduate program meets in a nearby classroom. Or the bomb squad will be practicing on the first floor, firefighters on the second floor are honing their forcible-entry skills and on the third floor SWAT is practicing their style of entry. It's more than EMTs teaching firefighters CPR.
Firefighters teach ICS to police officers. Police officers and firefighters discuss the finer points of defeating a static bar-secured door. Chief police officers discuss the finer points of predictive analysis with fire officers.
Before you strap on your tool belt to duplicate this effort, remember some basic truths: We are like a cult; you need to see that, you need to embrace that notion. But always agree that our brothers and sisters in the other blue uniforms are cult members too and we all have something to share. We need handshakes, not hand grenades.
Fusion is a word that's popular in many police and homeland-security circles; it works. Likewise, fire, law enforcement and EMS can work together, but not by merging departments; there are too many deeply ingrained attributes within each of our professions. But there is common ground, and we need to meet there, work together and continually improve.
You can start now: write down the names of the people you know in other emergency departments in your community and what links you. Write down the incidents where you worked together or not so much together. Look for the points of contact that worked, the disconnects and how you can monopolize those to create greater points of connection.
The phrase is overused, but think outside the box. In fact, climb outside the box, kick it down the street and make it work for you. Empower your entire organization to work on better relations with others to move past the status quo.
Think of those connection points as sparks and fan them. Invite your connection points to your place for meetings (it could just be a cup of coffee) and plan together to create a unified effort in a joint operational environment. Continue to expand your base of connections as you learn from each other. The effects will trickle down and percolate up into your organization.
Whether you're the chief of department or the lowest on the seniority list, if you've read this far, you're an ascending firefighter, a thinker, a mover and shaker in your organization. My prejudice is that by training together you can and will build more-cohesive operational organizations.
As a leader in your organization, you need to learn to build bridges to work with and explore the other disciplines in your community.
Be a leader, fan a spark, build a bridge. Get out of your comfort zone and make our family stronger than ever.