The fact that you are reading this column means that you probably read other fire related publications and books - I do too. In fact I usually open a magazine and go right to the letters to the editor to see what other readers thought of past stories. However, with Firehouse magazine I usually start with the last page in each issue in order to read what former FDNY Battalion Chief John Salka, Jr. has to say in his column "The Fire Scene."
I have known and been a fan of Chief Salka for many years. He is the real deal as far as being an experienced firefighter, a tested and respected leader and quality individual. I have never met any firefighter who served under him that did not speak highly of him. He started as a volunteer firefighter, loved it so much that he chose it as his career. He has served as a career chief and a volunteer chief, and his articles and his classes are designed to be applicable for both volunteer and career firefighters.
His column in the May issue of Firehouse is no exception and is one that should be read by every officer and firefighter because it applies to every department/company and every firefighter no matter what their role is or where they serve.
The title of May's column is "MAKING MISTAKES - AND CORRECTING THEM. Learning from mistakes can help us operate more safely." John acknowledges that we all make mistakes. However, in the field of firefighting making a mistake can result in serious injuries or death. He emphasizes how important it is to acknowledge when a mistake is made at an incident, discuss it and find ways from making the same mistake again.
Chief Salka describes one of his methods for approaching a firefighter who he knows made a mistake at an incident without making them defensive. He states, "This discussion can and should be done in a constructive manner and is often best accomplished by asking questions rather than making statements. For example; 'So, Frank, did you have any trouble with the nozzle or moving down the hallway?' If you know there was some difficulty during that process, you are letting Frank talk about it and provide perspective on the issue. Asking people about how things went opens the door for a good effective and corrective discussion."
He also recommends these type of discussions take place almost immediately either at the scene next to the apparatus or back at the firehouse. He states that waiting five weeks for a future drill in a volunteer department or a future shift for a career company will not have the same impact that having it immediately will have. He emphasizes repeatedly that correcting mistakes is an important element of running a good, safe and effective team. He recommends staying sharp and well trained so that you will be able to recognize tactics and behaviors that need correcting - good advice!
After finishing Chief Salka's column, go to page 16 and read the article written by Scott Goodwin. Lieutenant Goodwin has written one of the best summaries on firefighters taking care of themselves so they can do their best that I have read in quite some time. Take a few minutes and read both of these articles and keep reading First Responder for more ideas on how to make yourself better at what you do.