Three Keys to Decision Making

If you have been in the emergency services for more than a day chances are you have heard someone tell you that you need to have good decision making skills.  In today's litigious society good decision making skills are critical to your success and your organizations survival.  Unfortunately it seems that despite the importance of this skill we fail to train our personnel on how to make good decisions.  I have been in the fire service for over 26 years and I know I made some bad decisions in that time.  If you follow any current affairs I'm sure you have seen a story or ten of how a firefighter or an EMT made a bad decision that put them and/or their organization in a bad light.  Nobody is ever going to be perfect and mistakes will be made.  What is important is what you learn from those mistakes. 

Good decision making is important for all aspect of what we as "Community Servants" do from the emergency response to the improvement of our organization.  There are many books and articles that we can read on how to improve our decision making skills and I recommend that everyone from the new recruit to the veteran Fire Chief take time to seek out ways of honing this skill.

I was recently at a training session and the group was asked what is the best way to make decisions on organizational improvement.  Comments were given of "It depends on what your budget allows", "All depends on what technology you embrace.", "What does your community and staff expect.", etc..  Well I have thought about this for many years and I came up with three basic objectives that I look at when considering organizational improvements.  Now these are just things I look at and it helps me make decisions for capital improvements, policy change, operational goals, training improvements just to name a few.

  1. How does "it" benefit the community?  As a large majority of our organizations are tax funded we have a responsibility to provide the best service possible, within our means, to the residents of our community.  I realize there will always be certain financial constraints and we can't always afford all the things we would like to do, but there are certain things we should focus our attentions on such as ways to improve response.
  2. How does "it" improve the organizations ability to serve the community?   We all know it takes more than one person to provide the necessary services our communities deserve.  It seems that sometimes we get caught up in one of two traps.  The first is the "we have always done it this way" mindset.  This keeps good organizations from being great because they are so set in their way that the thought of change is never allowed to be a factor.  The second trap is the "shinny appeal" affect.  I have seen organizations get caught up in the fact that they have to have the latest and greatest "it" that they don't take into consideration if that "it" will actually improve their service to the community.
  3. How does "it" improve our responders ability to server our community?  We always hear that our personnel are our greatest resource.  If that is how your organization truly feels then that needs to be one of the consideration factors for how you will improve your organization.  This can be through improved safety factors such as PPE replacement, investment in in house and/or distance learning, acquisition of new equipment or embracing new technologies.  This type of thing can determine staffing levels or response procedures.

Again this may not work for every situation or for every organization but it has worked for me.  By keeping these three questions in the forefront of my mind when it comes to making significant changes or capital purchases I feel I have been successful in making tremendous improvements within my organization.  Of course this is my opinion and there will always be those that disagree, which is one the things that will always be present in emergency services.