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Chicago Fire Officers Association

Competency vs. Complacency

The regular meeting of the Chicago Fire Officers' Association will be changed from Tuesday January 28th 2014 until Wednesday January 29th 2014 at 7:00 pm


Competency vs. Complacency
By Gene Callahan

In this day and age with the abundance of technology (omnipresent television, cell phones, internet, PDA's, GPS, etc) and the speed of everyday life, we have created a society where doing enough to get by has become the standard mode of operation. There is too much to do and too little time for reflection on how to become better as a team or as an individual.

I have been retired now from the CFD for more than 10 years, and as I reflect back upon my time on the job I find myself contemplating two words which are critical to defining the future of the CFD, competency and complacency.  When I consider the word competency, I wonder if we ask ourselves often enough if we are competent in our particular role on the CFD.  The CFD is one of the world's leading fire and rescue services because our committed members have repeatedly asked how we can grow; improve and become more proficient for our community's safety and security. Complacency can also play a major, albeit negative, role in the future of the CFD.  Just as we must continually ensure that we are growing more skilled everyday, equally important we must protect against becoming too content with performing our duties. 

Questions to ask ourselves

  • Do I follow the SOPs set forth by the CFD?
  • Do I listen and consider others alternative ideas, instruction and suggestions?
  • Do I offer alternative ideas and suggestions based on the knowledge I have acquired on the job?
  • Do I learn from watching others' successes and failures?
  • Do I take the time to share what I have learned openly and unselfishly with others?

Based on your response to these questions, you will quickly be able to gauge if you are improving the CFD and leaving behind a legacy for others to follow. 

An incident from many years ago illustrates the role competency and complacency play in the CFD.  A tanker of gasoline developed a large leak of its product.  The CFD responded and immediately lead out a 3" hose line as a watch line to keep the product flowing away from the tanker.  A chief officer arrived on the scene and, listening to subordinate suggestions, agreed to implement a unique solution. A blue shirt suggested pulling the tanker over to a gas station located about 100 yards from the scene and emptying its product into its underground tanks.  With the owner's permission, they moved the tanker to the gas station.  When they got to the site, the fittings were not compatible.  They used one of the street pylons (used for holding traffic up) as a funnel and were able to empty the product into the underground tank until the leak was repaired, keeping the 3" watch line in place until the operation was completed.

Now, I ask you, would this chief officer have been more competent by implementing his own plan without regard to others' ideas? Would the blue shirt have been more competent by remaining silent instead of sharing an innovative solution to the situation? This example shows that the most competent are those who are not complacent and are willing to make changes and grow for the betterment of the current situation and the long term reputation of the organization.

As I reflect upon the fine men and women of the CFD in my retirement, I am reminded of the late John F. Kennedy asking, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."  To spin this phrase, I ask, "Ask not what the Chicago Fire Department can do for you, ask what you can do for the men and women of the CFD."

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