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  • Writer's pictureKelly Walsh

Guest Blog: The Fire Service Leader's Secret Weapon – Popcorn!!

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

A Proven Strategy for Dealing with Station Conflict.

by Peter Teliha, Brave Fire Leader Alumni & Battalion Chief

A bowl of popcorn in a fire station

I am not going to sugar coat it; dealing with station conflict stinks!

My most recent station conflict involved a shift change issue between two shifts. Basically, one shift didn't like the other, so they would wait until the very last minute to relieve the off-going crew, it was funny for a while, but now it is affecting operational efficiency and staffing.

A couple of shifts have gone by, and today I got The Call.

The Call is the kind of phone call that you don't want to get, where someone accuses someone of something or something broke, or something got damaged, or somebody got hurt – that call.

As a Fire Service Leader, it is your job to address The Call and to address it well.

When I get The Call, I like to use my 2/24 Rule to deal with this type of challenge. The 2/24 rule states that I give myself 2 hours to acknowledge the issue with the crew and 24 hours to try to fix it — more details on the 2/24 Rule in my next post.

So, within 2 hours, I call the company officer, I mention the issue, ask if they know anything about it and I let them know that I am coming over for a visit, in a bit.

Now that I have let the crew know that I am aware of a situation, I go to my food locker and get my popcorn kit. I let the issue simmer a little longer, usually another hour or two before I head over to the station with my secret weapon.

When I get to the station, because of the initial phone call and time in between, everyone knows that something is up; but for me, it is business as usual when I arrive. I say hello to everyone and ask about family, but I do not bring up the issue. If someone else brings up the issue, I politely say, "Can you hold that thought for a minute.", then I would finish my rounds and head to the kitchen with my bag of ingredients.

Without saying anything, I get a big pot, turn on the stove, pour in the oil, corn, seasoning and pop some popcorn. This method makes a lot of noise, and by the time the popcorn is ready, the entire crew is usually in the kitchen.

I place the popcorn in a big bowl, deal out several smaller bowls to everyone around the table, and grab myself a bowl, sit down and wait. Usually, it doesn't take long before someone starts talking, and the topic at-issue comes up.

Using a method of "Guided Discovery," I ask probing questions, such as who did what, when did this happen, what did you do about it, how did they respond, etc. The goal of Guided Discovery is to steer the conversation to identify a root cause(s) and then to generate collaborative solutions and next steps. The awesome thing about Guided Discovery solutions is they often do not involve you.

As leaders, we need to realize that collaborative solutions, built from the Firefighter up are way more successful than the Battalion Chief storming in, barking orders and writing employees up. The popcorn helps to facilitate a comfortable atmosphere to encourage discussion, and it helps you, as the Fire Service Leader, keep your mouth shut so you can listen to the solutions.

Best Regards & Be Safe,




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