Public Safety Insights Newsletter: Why Timing is Everything

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June 1, 2016 VOLUME 4, ISSUE 7
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Why Timing is Everything
Public Safety Insight: First responders who lack the necessary expertise for achieving a key outcome serve their communities well and set a good example when they call an expert right away instead of trying to do it themselves.

Years ago I was hired by a large fire and rescue agency to salvage a critical project that was well outside its members’ areas of expertise. With a mess on its hands despite weeks of frantic efforts to handle the issue internally, and with a deadline fast approaching, the agency finally called an expert. Asked why it took so long to seek the help they knew they needed, a fire captain replied, “When faced with any problem, we always do something. Even when we don’t know what we’re doing, we still do something because we’re the fire department and people expect us to handle whatever comes up.”

When educating people about public safety, first responders tell them to call 911 in an emergency. “Even if you’re not sure whether the situation truly requires a fire, EMS, or law enforcement response,” you advise, “call us anyway. We’re the experts; let us decide.” Given those clear and simple instructions, why do some people insist on trying to handle an emergency themselves before calling 911?

As you know, such delays result in greater danger to lives and/or damage to property than would have been the case if people had called the experts first. They also make first responders’ jobs harder, and put them in greater danger than necessary. Despite your best educational efforts, too many people still try to beat the odds by attempting to take care of a situation that’s outside their area of expertise instead of calling for help.

A similar scenario plays out regularly in public safety agencies around the country. Professionals who are well trained in fire and rescue operations are faced with achieving outcomes or providing deliverables for which they’ve had no training or preparation. Perhaps they must develop a department strategy, or rally the community’s support for a bond issue to replace outdated apparatus and/or critical rescue equipment. Even when these professionals don’t know where to begin, they often opt to give it their best shot rather than call for help. Although these situations seldom involve immediate danger to life or property, delaying a request for assistance in achieving a key goal is likely to result in significant costs and/or the inability to obtain the resources needed to keep the community safe, healthy, and economically viable, such as when voters reject a ballot measure for a public safety bond issue.    

Next time you find yourself in a situation in which you’re required to do something that’s beyond your areas of expertise, ask yourself this question: “Is there anyone else in the world who knows how to do [the task at hand]?” In the rare case in which the answer is “No,” then take it on yourself. However, when the answer is “Yes,” call an internal or external expert. And when calculating your return on investment, don’t forget to include the peace of mind that comes from knowing that a key outcome will be achieved successfully and on time. Because you are the fire department, and people expect you to know what to do.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at

Public Safety Insights is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help first responders maximize their performance. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.


©2016 Pat Lynch | Public Safety Insights

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