Editor’s Comment: Chances and opportunities

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I recently returned from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Conference and Expo in Kansas City, Missouri where I was afforded many opportunities to enhance my knowledge and understanding of new technology and innovation on display, writes IFSJ Managing Editor Duncan J. White.

Having joined the UK fire service at the age of eighteen, with the sole intention of driving big red lorries and wearing breathing apparatus to fight fires, I very quickly realised that there was much more to being ‘just a firefighter’ if you are prepared to take your chances and explore the opportunities offered.

Within a couple of years, I became frustrated with the management style of my immediate superiors and decided that if I wanted to influence change, I would need to pass my promotion examinations and apply for promotion.

With each promotion came additional responsibilities as well as more frequent and varied opportunities to move into new roles, which provided a more rounded understanding of the running of a modern fire and rescue service / fire department (FRS).

Despite undertaking several roles during my career which included incident commander, specialist trainer, project manager and supervisory officer I never felt my true potential was being nurtured or even understood by the organisation.

I became bored and to make best use of my time undertook voluntary roles, one of which afforded me the opportunity to attend fire trade shows.

This opportunity presented me with the opportunity to learn about another side of the industry and I soon received a commercial opportunity, which resulted in me setting up my own company and becoming a freelance consultant, alongside my fire service career.

I once heard a client comment: “Anyone working with a fire service should secure the services of an insider who knows the industry as it ensures that no questions are left unanswered, and all requirements can be understood and taken into consideration.”

There have been times when I was not always sure if I had the necessary skills or experience to fulfil opportunities but have always remembered a quote made by Sir Richard Branson, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”

This has proven to be extremely valuable!

I retired after almost thirty years’ service; however, throughout my time I was never afforded an appraisal which specifically looked at my transferrable skills which could have been of benefit to the FRS.

This was disappointing, although more concerning is that it seems like this is still the norm today and skilled people are being pigeonholed by rank / role rather than utilising their skills to best effect for the organisation.

For the fire service to remain an attractive career option it must look at new ways to get the best out of employees by implementing remuneration structures which allows them to reward staff who choose to specialise in one area or use their skills for the good of the FRS rather than continually changing roles because they are chasing the next promotion.

Never underestimate the demoralising and disruptive effect that boredom can have on the most aspirational members of your team.

This exclusive article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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