Moving the Needle

Ground Truths

[This is the “Ground Truths” column from the Winter 2020 Issue of Two More Chains.]

Moving the Needle

By Travis Dotson

When I introduce myself at meetings or training, I often say: “I’m just like everyone else here. My career path was Ops, Ops, Ops, Desk.”

A few folks chuckle, others frown.

Some of us desk pilots don’t really want to admit that we somehow ended up on the bad moving the needleside of the hike/sit ratio. I try to be a realist.

There is no doubt that I spend more time reading and thinking about incidents and accidents than I do exposed to the danger under the trees. So it is.

One lament I hear a lot from folks like me—those of us who have transitioned into management-sized pants or even national policy sized-pants—is that it’s tough to not see discernible proof of progress or impact. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “How’s the new job?”

Desky McPaperpush: “It’s good; it’s a challenge. It’s nice to get paid more. But I struggle with how long it takes to really make an impact.”

Me: “Yeah, I hear ya. Not quite like the immediate gratification of putting a tree right where you wanted it, huh?”

Desky McPaperpush: “Exactly!”

This is where the recent advancer tilts their head to the side, takes a deep breath and pauses for a beat. All to signal the profound insight they are about to share with me. Then they release their wisdom:

“You know, back when I was on the crew, at the end of every shift I could look back and count the chains of line we put in or mopped-up and note the progress toward the stated objectives. I never realized how deeply gratifying that was.”

I nod slowly in genuine empathy and social nicety, giving the impression I have never heard anyone say these exact same words before.

Then we usually joke about different measures we could substitute for chains of line: minutes on conference calls, emails sent, signatures provided, miles flown, presentations made, blah blah blah . . . Basic swivel chair scorecard stuff.

Eventually we get to the part where one of us says: “At this level, we have to accept that our role is just to move the needle.”

More nods. Then we move on to the awesomeness of scheduling leave in August. (Let me tell you, it is amazing. #LifeFirst.)

So how do we move the needle?

Here are the steps:

1. Identify Your Sphere of Influence.

Everyone has influence. If you are the Squad Leader or Engine Captain, you have way more influence than you realize. To this day I am living by practices instilled in me by my first fireground mentors. Accept this gift graciously and use it wisely.

2. Identify the Change.

Find one lesson that applies to your sphere of influence. (You might start with the ones in this issue of Two More Chains.)


4. Repeat.

This moves the needle.

The process does not vary for different levels of the organization.

The big needle is made up of all the little needles. Find one and move it.

Swing on, Tool Swingers (and Spreadsheet Ninjas).


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