Tag Archives: leadership

Be the Thermostat…Not the Thermometer

 thermo

by John Alston

(podcast “PLAY” button below)
 When talking to Fire Officers I find that many, sometimes, fall into two basic categories:
“Thermometers” and  “Thermostats”
Sometimes they find themselves, in one of two of these categories, through no fault of their own.  Through discussion at meetings and by gauging the types of questions that they ask; or positions they assert; I wonder how they arrived there.  Is it the “climate” where they work?  Maybe the orientation or initiation they received.  I surmise that  long before they rose through the ranks, their indoctrination, association and/or training dictated their category… and they can’t shake it. Was it osmosis???  The old nature-nurture debate???  No one can give a definitive answer.A more pertinent question: Is there a system or process in place to move Fire Officers into one of these two categories?  Is there a process to change them from one category to the other?
Thermometers:
Thermometers (definition – an instrument that reads or measures temperature) read the temperature in the room and display there findings. They do not initiate their own actions.  They wait until something happens and then display themselves. They change constantly, based on other conditions.  Thermometers are sometimes fickle or, at best, just register/report/represent the “ambient” temperature.  In other words, you don’t get a true read.  Sometimes there is a delay in their response. They do not initiate anything.  They react and respond to outside influences.
Thermostats:
Thermostats (definition – an automatic or manual device for regulating temperature), on the other hand, are changers. They have the ability to effect and affect their environment.  They can cause us to become warm or cold.  They can alter the atmosphere.  They can make us/others uncomfortable or motivate us to change.  They can have a negative effect, at times. But if they are set right, they continue to do their job correctly.  Thermostats can handle the heat and the cold, seamlessly.  The good ones do their job efficiently.
Which One Are You?
more to follow…

Copyright 2015 John Alston. All rights reserved.

“Congrats”, Dr. Onieal!

Dr. Onieal

Congratulations, Chief!

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Former Jersey City Fire Chief and native son Dr. Denis Onieal, who is now Superintendent of the National Fire Academy, has been selected by the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s Board of Directors as the recipient of the 2015 CFSI/Motorola Solutions Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award. The presentation will take place at the 27th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner on April 16th at the Washington Hilton, in Washington, D.C.

Established in 1998 and co-sponsored by CFSI and Motorola Solutions, the Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have been proactive at the local, state and federal government levels to improve and advance fire/emergency services and life safety issues. Representing a cross section of the fire and emergency services, previous recipients include chiefs, instructors, career and volunteer leaders and public safety advocates.

Dr. Onieal has served as Superintendent of the National Fire Academy since 1995, providing leadership to advance the professional development of fire service leaders of today and tomorrow. Through his efforts, the National Fire Academy has greatly expanded training opportunities for fire service personnel and enhanced NFA’s executive, management, and all-hazard community response and risk reduction curriculums. Working closely with State fire training agencies, NFA courses are now offered through every accredited State training agency in the country. Under Onieal’s leadership, the NFA curriculum has been completely revised to include equivalent college credit recommendation and continuing education units for all resident, off-campus and on-line deliveries. For the first time ever, fire degree programs across the nation are following a standard curriculum and syllabi, and work in close cooperation with State fire training agencies. This combination of standardized training and education is the foundation for professional status for the fire and emergency services.

Acting as a catalyst to improve the fire service, Dr. Onieal continues to write articles and deliver presentations across the nation on professional development within the fire service. His work in this regard has reached thousands of fire service personnel, providing them the encouragement to pursue their academic studies in addition to their fire service training. While rising through the ranks of the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department, he pursued his own professional development opportunities which eventually lead to a Doctor of Education degree from the New York University in 1990.

“The CFSI Board of Directors congratulates Dr. Denis Onieal on being selected as the recipient of the 2015 CFSI/Motorola Solutions Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award,” said Bill Jenaway, President of the Congressional Fire Service Institute. “He embodies the passion and dedication that the late-Mason Lankford demonstrated in making the fire service a safer profession. We look forward to honoring Dr. Onieal at the 27th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.”

For additional information about the 27th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program, visit the CFSI website at www.cfsi.org. This event benefits the mission of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization designed to educate members of Congress about fire and life safety issues.

Contact: Bill Webb (202) 371-1277

Catch a quick podcast I was fortunate to grab with my friend and mentor, Dr. Denis (CHIEF) Onieal.

5 Failures of Command

936680_331981183594673_40530468_n  by John Alston
Recently, I had a conversation with a group of Fire Officers about the state of Leadership and Character, in the ranks of the modern day fire service. I stated, without fear of contradiction that the “First-line Supervisor” Rank was the most critical position on the job.  We all agreed.  We went through all of the ranks and discussed them, 1 by 1; their impact on our profession, in all of its aspects. We then began to discuss the effectiveness and/or the lack thereof. We are willing to stipulate that there are so many areas to cover, that we ran out of time. There were so many items that we had to start narrowing the focus.   We got down to 5.
They are:
1) Poor Communications
2) Lack of Accountability
3) Lack of Discipline
4) Lack of Commitment
5) Lack of Training
  1. Poor Communications – As is stated, so many times, communication is the principle method by which we get things done.  At every level in the fire service, when there is a gap in service (both for our External and Internal Customers), the lack of communications or poor communication rises to the top of the list.  Whether in the Fire Station, Headquarters or in the street, poor communications are at the root of calamities, disasters and miscues.   Written orders, guidelines and rules must be clearly formulated and clearly communicated. Public Fire Education and Fire Prevention efforts must take the “end-user” into consideration.  Complete and succinct information can make working with the public, on important issues, so much more easier.  Yet, many Officers are not trained in effective communications and many don’t know when communications have gone awry.
  2. Lack of Accountability – ACCOUNTABILITY: for actions and responsibilities; for crew members, equipment and tasks, particularly at the scene of emergencies.  Lack of Accountability could also be classified as a Lack of Responsibility; members being responsible for their own actions. A few years back, I saw so many classes being offered on Accountability Systems, Rapid Intervention Crews, May-Day’s and Self-Rescue techniques.  I taught many of them.  The prevailing issue that came up was working to keep our people from getting into those situations in the first place. Purposeful and proactive accountability can aid to that end.  When we impress upon our people that situational awareness is paramount, we are telling them to be accountable.
  3. Lack of Discipline – Our service is effected, negatively, not by the exercise and issuance of discipline, but by the lack of the same.  Many members talk about the lack of morale from time to time.  Some attribute it to contracts, equipment, schedules, the person at the top, Officers, etc.  However, I can say that the lack of discipline is a more pernicious element to low morale than any other.  It’s easy to blame the Chief, Commissioner or Fire Director for your woes, however, what is going on in your neck of the woods.  What about the things you have direct control over.  I have found that when discipline is effectively applied and evenly enforced; when members know what your expectations are and you are willing to hold them to the standards, morale and productivity improve.  It starts and ends with you!  Yes, YOU!  Lack of discipline, in your own personal and professional demeanor/deportment, can be contagious.  You wear your uniform improperly, so will your subordinates; come to work late and stay unshaven/disheveled, so will your subordinates; cut corners, they will; break rules, they will.
  4. Lack of Commitment – I am a big proponent of commitments and being sure that you are clear on them. It is a significant character trait for firefighters and fire officers that is severely lacking these days.  I have seen a great shift from a true commitment to the job, your crew, your officer and yourself  to a true commitment to “yourself”.  The number of self-centered, self-absorbed, conceited and narcissistic firefighters is at an all time high.  It permeates every aspect of our service and I don’t see the trend slowing.  There are several reasons why, but commitment stands out.  Look up from the phone, laptop and/or iPAD and see what has happened to our beloved profession.  It’s not pretty.
  5. Lack of Training – How does one get to Carnegie Hall?; Practice, Practice, Practice.  How does one become an Effective Commander in the Fire Service (one that members will Trust)? TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN!  You have to train, to acquire the confidence, skill sets and competence to operate in your position. You must read, take courses and network with other more experienced fire officers to stay abreast of emerging technologies.  You must seek a mentor and then be  a mentor to someone else.  Your training must be multi-disciplined.  There are some great corporate management books out there.  There is required reading for our profession and acquired reading.  Be a sponge.  Continue on a course of achievement and education.  It works!

expanded podcast online…

 Copyright 2012 John Alston. All rights reserved.