Safety Communication for Fire Chiefs

I recently spoke to the Florida Fire Chiefs Association about safety communication.

I was honored to be chosen, because the FFCA wanted an “outside perspective.” I was never in the fire service, not even volunteer, and don’t have any first responder experience, but I do have a medical background, and I’ve seen what kind of communication does and doesn’t create safety.

Not only did I get to present my findings and safety communication principles, and we had a discussion about some of the most pressing issues for fire safety today (getting quick data about the structures they’re going to, and preventing and dealing with sleep deprivation were two of the biggies!), but we had a lot of fun as well. Fire personnel typically have a great sense of humor and these folks were no exception.

Another issue that came up is suicide. It turns out – and I didn’t know this before I started working with FFCA and researching the profession – that the fire service is losing more people to PTSD and suicide than to line of duty deaths. And, not surprisingly, there is a Type-A macho culture where talking about your feelings can be a bit of a challenge.

I drew a comparison for them between “talking about stuff” and how they often vent the smoke out of a building to prevent explosions (that’s why they break the windows) – venting the feelings can prevent someone with issues from doing something drastic. I was glad they found that metaphor useful.

It was a great gig- the podium was the front of a fire truck… only in Florida, I said. I also said somebody was extremely committed to keeping open-cab trucks around; which is something they’d get. Open-cab fire trucks have all but been eliminated due to safety concerns.

I have to confess- I was very concerned about this one, because of my lack of exposure to first responders, and how exclusive this group can be. But I called up a friend who used to be a fire fighter, and he connected me with a chief local to me here in Charleston, and that was very helpful. I also read several books and watched some TV and movies. The movie BURN about Detroit, its abandoned houses and all the arson there was particularly interesting.

That’s what I do sometimes, I over-prepare! But it paid off. I was able to strike a chord with the audience and even make a few friends out of the deal.