Chief Ron Richards
Since you are reading
this article on your computer, you obviously have a working knowledge of
how computer's work. You are probably using Windows or a similar operating
system which allows you to access the internet and at the same time type
a memo while music or live dispatch is playing in the background.
operating system uses some criteria to decide how long to allocate to any
one task before giving another task a turn to use the operating system.
In some operating systems, some applications can be given higher priority
than other applications, giving the higher priority programs control as
soon as they are initiated and perhaps longer time slices.
Obviously the more
stuff you have opened on your desktop, the easier it is to miss something.
If the applications you have opened are various intensive, they can have
a "slowing down" effect on your computer's system. Since we all have become
so dependent on our laptops or desktops, we've all grown accustomed to
doing more than one task at a time. We may use audible alerts to let us
know when we have a new email message in our "in-box" or check out Instant
Messenger when we hear the "door open" sound come across the computer's
The real world in
not much different than your computer's desktop. It is not uncommon for
you to have several items that need your attention all at once. Like the
desktop, you chose the ones that will get you attention and can avoid those
you don't want to deal with.
is usually more at stake with the issues you chose to deal with or avoid
than trying to decide if or when you will open your e-mails.
A good leader
can deal with more than one issue at a time.
Imagine a CEO of
a corporation spending all this time focused on the advertising while neglecting
to deal with other issues. As we all know, he has a staff that helps him
gather information and and provides him pertinent information so that he
can make informed decisions.
executive vice president of worldwide operations for Sun Microsystems.
Peterson is a great example of a person who can multitask. She not only
does it as an individual she applies the same principle at the office.
Everyone on her more than 2,000-person staff knows exactly what role she
expects them to play and the larger goal that the team needs to meet. "My
top priority is developing the strategy for achieving my operation's goals
and then laying out that vision to my team," says Peterson.
Good fire service
managers and supervisors have to take the same lead. Do you know of
a fire service manager who cannot deal with more than one issue at a time?
Does he get focussed on one issue and neglects other pressing matters.Why
do you think that's the case? Is it possible that the manager is
choosing to deal with issues that are near and dear to his heart, or maybe
those that give the appearance that is is making decision, but in reality
is an in effect manager by not handling the big stuff?
How about the
company officers who won't deal with issues head on when the occur but
end up bitching at everyone in the station about how bad things are. For
example, if a company officer is having a problem with one particular firefighter
then he should deal one on one with the firefighter to air things out.
After all, isn't that why he's the company officer and not riding
the tail step?
At the company officer
level there are going to being time at several issues are brewing all at
the same time. The BC is on your butt about company drills, you have personnel
issues with two firefighters, the wipers still only working when the want
to on the pumper and, if that's not enough, it looks like somebody has
their fingers in the till in the house fund. All issues that require you
attention. Some that are easy to fix and some that will require tactful
intervention on your part.
The ineffective officer
will probably chose to deal with those issues that are non confrontational.
Let's please the boss, get the training done and let see if we can get
the wipers fixed in-house, since the rig has been to the shop four times
and they still haven't got it right. The personnel issue.... naw.... let's
avoid that one. One of the guys involved rides to work with you. He's your
homey. When it comes down to it, you really don't want to take side or
deal with this, so you choose to bury you head in the sand and let the
The rest of the station
is watching. They know what's up. You are undermining your own authority
and responsibility by not dealing with the issues. Soon all the firefighters
will begin to question you effectiveness. You've chosen in your own
mind that you don't want to be the bad guy. By not resolving the problem,
you have become the bad guy. Why? Because that's what you job is! Handle
the issues, the popular ones and those that stink.
And how about the
case of the missing money? Do we call in Columbo for this one? Are you
going to handle this or let it become a bigger problem?
"If you saw the movie
'Top Gun' (1986), you'll remember what all you see Tom Cruise doing in
the cockpit He's got to pick and choose when he does what, multitask very
carefully. The chance that he'll conclude a flight in a fighter jet successfully
depends not only on his capabilities and limitations but also on his equipment,
" said David Meyer, Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Meyer
and his counterparts conducted a detail study on multi-tasking in 1992.
"Insofar as we can
understand his capabilities and limitations, we have the opportunity to
improve his equipment to take advantage of his capabilities and protect
him from his limitations. On an aircraft carrier, operators perform in
command information centers. They have to process lots of information across
many, many channels that require all sorts of different decisions to be
made. In order to do that job, the operator must multitask -- and if not,
figure out how to cope with the limitations."
of like one of the 'Dirty Harry' movies with Clint Eastwood. At the end
of the film Clint says, 'A man's gotta know his limitations,'" Meyer said.
We can come up with
similar examples at every level.....battalion chiefs who don't want to
make waves, just wanting to make it through the shift, not burn down a
block and retire in three years. Or how about a chief officer who is bucking
for the next promotion and don't want to piss of the chief or look bad
in the mayor's office. Maybe it's the department chief who sweeps stuff
under the rug. Sooner of later the is going to be a big hump in the floor
and someone is going to ask what is there!
So what can we learn
from this? First of all, we live, work, and volunteer in a dynamic environment.
People issues will take up probably more that 80% of your time. Secondly,
you will have to deal with various issues and various times and more likely
than not simultaneously. If you are a good administrator, manager or supervisor,
you should be able to prioritize what demands you immediate attention,
what can wait, what is a non issues or what can be handled off for
someone else to resolve.
Realize early on
in your career as a manager that you will have to make decisions that will
be unpopular. Don't imagine for a second that everyone in the firehouse
or department is your friend and they like you. They don't. What is more
important it that they respect you. You'll gain that respect by dealing
with more than one issue at time.... multitasking. Most subordinates can
take a no for an answer. All they want is an answer.
Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching," Joshua S. Rubinstein,
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Atlantic City, N.J.; David E. Meyer
and Jeffrey E. Evans, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., Journal
of Experimental Psychology - Human Perception and Performance, Vol 27.
the author: Chief Ronald Richards has over 28 years of fire service experience,
both career and volunteer. He rose through the ranks in the Forest City
Fire Department, in Forest City, PA and became Fire Chief in 1995 holding
that position through 2000 when he retired. He currently serves as the
Chief for Training and Safety for Browndale Fire Company in Wayne County,
PA. Chief Richards has over 24 years of service with the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, having served as a Fire Marshal with the Department of Public
Welfare, a Fire and Safety Specialist with the Pennsylvania Department
of Corrections. Currently, he is a Superintendent Assistant within the
PA Department of Corrections, responsible for media relations, litigation
coordination, accreditation, and the writing of policies and procedures.
Chief Richards graduated from the State University of New York with a Bachelor
of Science Degree in Fire Service Administration. Richards is a PA
State Fire Instructor and an instructor with Command School. He is
the founder of WithThecommand.com.