Execution of Excellence


No policy or procedure will ever be effective if it is written, placed in a book and never looked at again.

"The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”–Vince Lombard

Execution – The carrying out or putting into effect of a plan, order, or course of action.

Excellence – The quality of being outstanding or extremely good.

What is the “Execution of Excellence”?  As in many cases, words can have different meanings depending on how they are said and the context in which they are used.  By no means does this refer to dispatching excellence with extreme prejudice as was suggested by a good friend.  The term was used last week on a show called “Shark Tank”.  One of the sharks referred to a young entrepreneur's business as an “execution of excellence”, yet at the same time a failure.  You see this self starter had set out to make the perfect scone, and while he had succeeded in doing so by the sharks standards, his business was failing because at the end of the day the quality of the product did not outweigh the rest of the market. 

So often things we watch, see and read can be easily translated into the Fire Service.   Clearly every Fire Department would like to (in theory) achieve an ‘execution of excellence’ when it comes to their product.  A fireground where all the wheels and cogs fit together, and work in unison to achieve a well stated goal. 

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this does not always happen.  Let's look into that and see why.

Excellence of Self

Many of today’s firemen are committed to training and learning and because masters of their trade.  They attend countless hours of instruction and spend hours honing and refining their skills.  If they were to operate on their own, they would achieve an execution of excellence.  However this is where the problems start.  Firefighting is not an individual activity.  We rely heavily on our partners, crew, shift and department to help us achieve the goals required to safely mitigate an incident.  If you are spending hours perfecting your skills, while you partner spends hours playing “Call of Duty”, then your effectiveness will be reduced, and there is little you can do to overcome that

This however doesn't’t mean you should put down the tools and pickup a controller.  Hopefully through time the uninterested will either gain interest and join in, or bid out.  There is little you can do except apply peer pressure as necessary and forge on.  Hopefully you have an Officer that understands what this job is about and he/she can help motivate the reluctant one as well.  Otherwise you are trying to lead from the bottom up and that can be difficult.

What is critical is that you do not lose your way.  You will become frustrated and bitter, but you must continue to do the job your way.  You must continue to prepare and train like your life depends on it, because it does. 

Excellence of Company / Shift

For this purposes of the part of the article, shift and company are used interchangeably.  Depending on the size of your Department, they may be one in the same.  But the discussion applies to both.

As a company officer, you job is to produce a company that will meet the objectives of the Department as set forth in SOPs and Policy.  Your OBLIGATION is to mentor and train your crew and lead them in one of the most difficult, changeable and dangerous environments the human element will face.  If they are not prepared, it is your fault.  If they fail, you have failed.  Your execution of excellence is turning out a company that operates like that well oiled machine.  One that knows what is expected of them by you as their officer, and can execute that plan with a minimum of direction and supervision.  This is not to say they are all free-lancing, but you will have had plenty of time to train them as to what to expect when they come around the corner.  In the front yard at 2 a.m. is not time to write the playbook.

Unfortunately it can be difficult as a company/shift officer to develop that plan when there is little is the way of direction.  Or the wrong type of direction is being offered.  A good friend once faced with this situation told his shift, “we are the island of D Shift”.  He realized that he could not affect the changes needed globally, so he acted locally. 

You must establish goals for how your crew will operate, then train them to these goals.  Hopefully, you will be able to operate effectively this way.  Again, depending of Department size, your company may just be one small drop of water in a five gallon bucket and you will find your company reacting to the decisions of others.  You will however still be better prepared, and better able to function because of the training and preparation you have done.

Excellence of Department

This is where the most difficult aspect of The Execution of Excellence lies.  For a Department, to consistently offer a product that meet the definition requires a lot of effort.  Chief Officers must be engaged, and SOPs and policies must be relevant and functional and then trained on and enforced.

For Chiefs of Department, the Fire Department is a reflection of self.  Every decision made, every action taken is their responsibility.  They can bask in the glow of things done right; they must step up and act when things go wrong.

Lieutenant Colonel David Hackworth writes in his book ‘About Face’, “An organization only performs well the things that the Commander checks on.”  This is not a license for micromanagement.  It is however an acknowledgement that just because you say something must happen doesn't’t mean it will happen. 

Obviously this is easier in a smaller Department, but within any Department this can be achieved.  "The Triangle of Solid Standard Operating Procedures" on Fire Engineering Online discusses one aspect of how this is done.   No policy or procedure will ever be effective if it is written, placed in a book and never looked at again.  The three points of the triangle are SOPs, training and discipline and for your Department to achieve an Execution of Excellence, they all must be used.

The execution of excellence should be a goal for every Fire Department.  Every time we hit the street, we should be doing so with the knowledge and training to allow us to operate at the top of our game.  It is easy to find excuses as to why not to prepare, it is not so easy to explain why your failure to prepare resulted in an injury and death or unnecessary fire loss.

Photos, in order, courtesy of: Mark Filippelli/FITHP.net and Billy Adkins/FITHP.net.



Dave LeBlanc is a Captain with the Harwich, Massachusetts Fire Department. Dave entered the Fire Service in 1986 as a Call Firefighter with the Dennis Fire Department. He worked full time during the summers in Dennis, while attending the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut. While at the University of New Haven, Dave studied Arson Investigation. He also was a volunteer with the Allingtown and West Haven Fire Districts in West Haven. He spent his sophomore year as a Live In student with the Allingtown Fire District. His education included internships with the Aetna Insurance Company and the Boston Fire Department Arson Squad.

In 1993 Dave went to work full-time with the Harwich Fire Department as a dispatcher. In 2000 he transferred into suppression and was promoted to Lieutenant in 2008. In addition to his regular duties, Dave also manages the Department’s Radio system, is responsible for conducting Fire Investigations, and assists in maintaining the computers systems.

Dave’s blog tends to focus on current day issues and maintaining a commitment to the ideals and principals that created the fire service, while keeping today’s firefighters safe.

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