Business Lessons from a 3-alarm Fire
For millions of people in the U.S., July 1st was memorable because it marked the highly anticipated World Cup soccer game between the U.S. and Belgium. Here in Long Beach, CA, thousands of excited fans crowded local streets and businesses well ahead of the 1 p.m. local starting time to party and cheer for their team. For the Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD), however, 1 p.m. on July 1st became memorable for a different reason: it marked the time of the first call alerting them to a fire at a local business. After assessing the magnitude of the situation, the first units on scene called in a second alarm, followed quickly by a third alarm. In addition to the multiple fire engines, trucks, and ambulances dispatched to the fire, the hazardous materials and search and rescue teams also were summoned as flammable materials fueled the blaze and the roof collapsed.
I happened to be at the LBFD dispatch center that day, which gave me a front-row seat to observe those who choreographed the emergency response. I watched in awe as the dispatchers quickly and expertly directed the appropriate apparatus to the scene, responded to radio questions and requests from the field, sent additional equipment, and re-positioned the remaining fire engines to other stations so that all parts of the city would have some coverage during this incident that suddenly demanded most of the available resources. To the public, nothing seemed amiss: both 911 and non-emergency calls continued to be answered promptly. Even the person who called 911 to demand that a fire marshal be sent to a local bar that was so crowded that she couldn’t get in (!) had no clue that the dispatcher simultaneously was handling the immediate demands of a 3-alarm fire.
Although such emergencies are rare, when they do occur, first responders must be on top of their games in order to prevent a catastrophe or mitigate its effects. Even with single alarm fires, the damage can be alleviated IF both dispatchers and firefighters are properly trained and have the appropriate resources. Whatever your organization’s equivalent of a 3- (or 2- or 1-) alarm fire, here are six observations about how you might apply the lessons demonstrated by this incident:
Hopefully your organization doesn’t experience many emergencies. When it does, your employees’ abilities to respond effectively will test the strength of its foundation. Being able to address the above points positively will go a long way toward making sure you can recover quickly.
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© 2014 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.