In a recent discussion in the Rope Rescue Group on FFN, I referred to many departments as "plate spinners". You can read the full discussion at:
I'd like to say that this term used to describe many departments is mine, as I feel that it sums up many the world over, however it's not- it was suggested to me by someone who heard it from someone else. (You know the old, "a friend of friend's brother, who's cousin’s dad’s uncle, etc!!!")
It's not the most flattering term to use, but I also believe that it sums up many departments very well. It's not necessarily the members own doing, it may be management, it may the mutual aid agreements (or lack of), it may be legislated, it may be lack of funding or it may simply be a case of "no one else does it, so we will".
Let me explain the term and have a think about your department, OBJECTIVELY. Take the emotional attachment hat off and look long and hard at your department.
Plate Spinning was a term used to describe the nature of what many fire departments do. We spin plates- in other words, we do a bit of fire, a bit of EMS, a bit of confined space, a bit of USAR, a bit of HAZMAT, a bit of trench rescue, a bit of SAR, a bit of rope rescue, a bit of road crash rescue and so on. And we spend so much time and effort running between the plates and keeping them in motion.
We need to be more than plate spinners. Why?
* First and foremost, there's lives at risk.
Now it may sound stupid, but we can never lose sight of this. We need to be prepared for any incident that is thrown our way, in order to save lives.
* It's often public money we're spending on equipment and training.
Many of these require many dollars worth of equipment to perform properly. This is especially true with specialised topics such as the suite of "rescue's" as listed above. Rope rescue for example, requires more than a couple of karabiners, a figure 8 descender and some rope.
* We must acknowledge that the hours often required to maintain minimum skill set is often beyond what many departments are capable of doing-
this includes career and volunteer. (Contrary to what many may believe, career station staff don't have all the time in the world to do training- they're often too busy on runs, etc)
So how do we move on from being plate spinners?
* We need to look at our core business.
Look at statistics for calls. This will often determine what we need to focus on. If we're only getting 2 calls per year for HAZMAT, why focus so much effort on it?
* We need to get in place proper mutual aid agreements- NOW!
Find out what your neighbouring department does. Find out what equipment they have, train with them, and work with them. Don't hesitate to call them ASAP. We all know it's a lot easier to cancel a responding unit than it is to get them rolling in the first place. We need to collaborate with our neighbours. We need to communicate with our neighbours.
* We may need to swallow some pride.
We don't have to do EVERYTHING.
it is OK to acknowledge your limitations and use other departments that are already equipped and trained to do a particular task.
* We need to pre-plan to determine our drivers.
Pre-planning sets the tone for so many benefits to the department and the
* We need to educate our managers and decision makers.
Educate them about core business. Educate them about the real dollars required to properly equip a department to do a job. Educate them about the real time it takes to maintain minimum skill levels.
* We must acknowledge that it is often public money we're pissing up against the wall.
Spend it wisely on your core business or we risk losing the support of the public. (This was highlighted really well recently on FFN when someone asked a question about raising $ to purchase a million dollar truck- the replies from many members offered some great alternatives, with a much reduced outlay for the department and the community.)
* We need to think like a business.
We need to be smart about how we manage funds (raise it, allocate it, spend it, justify it, etc) I run a training and consulting business and every major purchase is weighed up carefully- we look at the required outlay versus the Return on Investment (ROI). I'm not spending a fortune on equipment, only to have it sit in my factory collecting dust. I'm also not investing huge $ on my staff's professional development, if it's not of any benefit to the business- there has to be ROI in everything we do.
Is your department plate spinning or are you fair dinkum about doing the job properly, to the benefit of everyone?