Last month, I had the opportunity to attend some executive leadership classes at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg Maryland. A great opportunity to be in class with executive leaders from fire departments throughout the country. Attending classes at the National Fire Academy is always interesting. There is always something thought-provoking to learn. Quite often however, the lesson you learn is not something listed in the class curriculum.
During the first week of courses, the instructor posed a question regarding how departments engaged their community. After a bit of awkward silence I decided to raise my hand. I spoke about the various ways in which West Pierce Fire & Rescue gets involved in the communities in which we serve. I went down a quick list to summarize some of the things we do. I talked about how we encourage our employees to be members of civic organizations such as Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Partners for Parks and Caring for Kids, just to name a few. I spoke about the role our unions play, supporting local charitable organizations, forming work parties to help upgrade the playground at Fort Steilacoom or build a house in Tillicum for Habitat for Humanity. I explained how staff members attend city council meetings in all three communities as well as other civic meetings as a way of showing our support for the issues within each community.
As I said, it was a short list of things I could have spoken about, but I thought it might be enough to get the conversation started. Well, it started a conversation, but what I heard next just about knocked me over. The first student to respond said “That won’t work in our department. We have a policy against any of our firefighters talking to city council members.” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Little did I know it was about to get much worse. The next thing I heard was “Yeah, that isn’t going to work in our department. Our firefighters are not allowed to talk to the public.” I was shocked and appalled, but mostly just sad for the firefighters that have to work in that department. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to work in a department that tells its employees not to speak with the public. It definitely reinforced for me how proud and happy I am to say I work for West Pierce Fire & Rescue.
Later that day, I got back to my room to check my e-mail and saw one of our Paramedic/Firefighters was getting a work party together. They were going to help remodel the home of a local family who had been in a devastating accident and now needed access for their daughter’s wheelchair. Whew!! My world was back to normal. The work party was just another example of the kind of things our employees do every day. Members of the department giving back to the community, not because they have to but because they want to. They do it because they feel like they are a member of the community, whether they live in the district or not.
I often take what we do for granted, assuming all other fire departments are doing the same thing. My recent trip to the National Fire Academy served as a reality check for me. It reminded me that West Pierce Fire & Rescue isn’t your average fire department. We set high standards for ourselves because it’s in our character and because we know the communities we serve deserve nothing less. It’s that kind of thing that sets West Pierce Fire & Rescue apart from all the rest.