Ever wondered about the rigorous training that firefighters undertake? While training is about fighting fires and other vital emergency response capabilities, it is also about learning how to manage a team of diverse people and helping them to work towards common goals.
With this end in mind, The Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board has engaged DeakinPrime (the corporate education arm of Deakin University) to form a training partnership, developing its leading fire fighters to Station Officer rank. This development stage in fire fighting training is often described as ‘moving from the back of the truck to the front of the truck’ as fire fighters need to demonstrate superior leadership and team capabilities both at the fire station and also under extremely challenging emergency situations.
Core leadership capabilities to be developed at the Station Officer level include managing self and others, displaying and modelling ethical behaviour, identifying improvement opportunities, cultivating positive collaborative relationships, resolving conflict within teams as well as communicating in an open and trustworthy manner both within the organisation and within the greater community at large.
Becoming a leader
Specific modules that DeakinPrime’s leadership facilitators ran included Provide Personal Leadership and Lead, Manage and Develop Teams. These key areas were facilitated largely in workshop mode however learning activities included role plays , vigorous debates on MFB workplace issues as well as time-bound group challenges. Participants clearly enjoyed the ‘Great Debate’ sessions where teams were required to take affirmative and negative sides on such topics as ‘You CAN lead in every situation.’ and ‘It’s easier to lead in an operational incident context than in a station environment.’. Facilitators and adjudicators alike commented on the vigour and verve with which these debates were entered into and the verbal jousting which continued (in jest!) well into the break sessions. To further bring the leadership concept alive, Deakin University’s lecturer and football legend, David Parkin, spoke to the group to share his thoughts on how he has managed resistance in teams and inspired individuals to greatness.
Quality customer service
A part of the workshop delivery also included a module on Managing Quality Customer Service. While the title may at first seem to be at odds with the sort of training that one might expect to occur on a firefighter’s program, customer service is in fact a crucial part of any fire fighter’s role as he/she engages with the community. You would only need to glance at the MFB’s mission to see that its role is ‘Protecting our community’ and its vision is to “Make Melbourne the Safest Community in the World”.
In this context then, participants needed to reflect on questions such as who MFB’s internal and external customers are and how well they as individuals met customer service expectations such as honesty, reliability, personal contact, accessibility, and timely performance.
The unit was further related back to MFB activities as participants needed to develop an action plan for promoting a customer service orientation. This could include considering how well evacuation exercises with the public are performed; the level of participation in community programs and fundraising activities; how building inspections are conducted and how fire safety messages at community events are promoted. Part of the research for this task involved participants refreshing their knowledge of the organisation’s regulations, policies and quality assurance standards.
The fact that the Station Officer program spanned a total of 15 rigorous weeks meant that the participants felt that they had achieved a real milestone on completion. Participants gained not just from the Leadership components facilitated by DeakinPrime but also from the other dynamic and varied components of the program - this included training in Public Relations, Health & Fitness, a 3 day practical session in Alexandra, Operational Knowledge sessions (management of industrial gases, dust explosions, etc.), Building Fire Safety and Introduction to Law.
To mark the completion of the program, a graduation ceremony was held for the group of 20 Station Officers at the Melbourne Zoo on December 14, 2010 where MFB president Neil Comrie, presented the group with Certificates of Achievement and the accompanying badges that signify achievement of this more senior rank. Family and friends were welcomed to this event and were able to share in the sense of achievement and celebration.
The journey that these fire fighters have been on is definitely an example of the firm commitment that the MFB makes to continuing professional development in all aspects of fire fighters’ lives and is a reflection of the high regard that the organisation has for its employees’ wellbeing and career development. The positive flow-on effects to the Melbourne community are well publicised – it’s a comforting thought to know that we are being protected 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by well-informed and well trained officers. The MFB and DeakinPrime are now preparing for the next group of firefighters to embark on this same journey in March and what a journey it will be!
Final words come from Tony Westcott, Manager – Leadership & Development, who commented:
‘The relationship with DeakinPrime to deliver Leadership Development components as part of the MFB Station Officer Program No. 46 has truly enriched and broadened the emphasis of our Station Officers’ leadership capability.’