“Interpersonal communication is an exchange of information between two or more people. Communication skills are developed and may be enhanced or improved with increased knowledge and practice. During interpersonal communication, there is message sending and message receiving. Successful interpersonal communication is when the message senders and the message receivers understand the message” (source: Wikipedia).
“Engine 2 is on the scene with a working fire on the second floor, alpha-delta side, of a medium-sized single family dwelling. Engine 2 will conduct interior primary search and suppression. Give me a full still off of Box 1, and move everybody over to fireground red upon arrival.” “Ambulance 2 is on the scene of a two vehicle head-on collision with moderate damage to both vehicles. Ambulance 2 will be out checking for injuries and advise further.”
These are fairly typical calls that fire departments from around the world respond to on a frequent basis. In most cases (depending on jurisdiction SOG’s), dispatch will repeat back in echo type fashion to ensure that the message was received. If not, then the original sender will issue a correction of said information. Thus, both parties have established effective interpersonal communication. Generally, first responders are very proficient with radio communications (with occasional hiccups), as it is an integral part of fireground training. The more it is practiced, the better it becomes. However, have you taken the temperature of the interpersonal communication within the four walls of the firehouse?
One observation I have made lately that has become very bothersome to me is a noticeable weakness within this interpersonal arena both between individuals, and shifts. Not a day goes by (24/7/365) that someone, somewhere, is casting judgment on another person. Many times these character assassinations are made based on table talk, rumor, or gossip. By the time it makes it through all the shifts (and it does), the damage to a person’s reputation could be irreparable. Other times, firefighters will not talk to each other out of fear (of being chastised) or because they feel the other person has an unapproachable or unreasonable demeanor. At the end of the day, poor communication may be rooted in a faulty perception of one another. So, what can we do to strengthen our firehouse relationships?
My wife Judy, who is a third grade teacher told me about a new character building program that has been instituted district-wide this year called the 8 Keys of Excellence. This curriculum was developed as a nationwide effort to “guide young people toward a positive future full of confidence, motivation, creativity, team work, leadership and valuable life principles” (2015). I defer you to the link listed in the reference section of this post for further information. Although no longer children- we are still life-long learners, so I thought I would share a couple of the keys that I feel are most apropos to improving our firehouse relationships.
- Integrity: Demonstrating integrity means to hold true to all you value and believe in whatever you do, or however you act- this is how trust is built into any relationship. Mistrust is perpetrated when we “Do as I say, not as I do.” In our line of work, we put our lives into each other’s hands every time that bell or buzzer goes off. It takes a great deal of trust to reach that level of existence, and maintaining a high degree of integrity can show us the way.
- Speak with good purpose: This key asks us to speak honestly and kindly to all those you interact with. In our modern society this is something that is very hard to do, especially if we have a negative perception of another. The old adage goes: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it at all.” All that can be asked is we try our best every day to live up to the precepts of this key.
One of the best ways to understand each other and check the validity of a perception is to go directly to the source-the person themselves. Who knows, you may just find common ground. There may never be a time and place in our world where everyone will see eye to eye or be best friends-that’s life. However, it is far better to make an attempt at peace and understanding (for the duration of the working relationship) in order to achieve a balanced state of mind and lower stress levels. When doing so, maintain a high degree of integrity and speak with good purpose. You’ll never know unless you try. Just some food for thought.
Be well and stay safe,
The 8 Keys of Excellence: Making Kids Greater. Retrieved from http://www.8keys.org/ on March 10, 2016.