Eating Your Own Cooking

The following article, written by Bart Wright, Asst. Chief/Admin., Maitland Fire Dept. has been used by permission.  This article originally appeared in the May 2011 edition of the FFMIA Safety Matters newsletter.

A few months ago, I had the occasion to attend a pension board meeting relative to my department's pension plan and it turned out to be quite an experience. That experience resulted in a more useful application than I ever imagined, starting with the words used by the investment managers making up the board. Those words are the subject title of this article - 'Eating Your Own Cooking'.

Having never heard them before that night, as it turns out, that phrase is quite the business mantra. Do an internet search and see for yourselves. During the meeting, I learned from the investment people attending our meeting, it meant that the recommendations being made to our pension board were recommendations that these very people were also applying to their own situations. And then it hit me; does our industry "Eat our own cooking"?

To answer that question, we must first recognize the rhetorical nature of the question as well as recognizing what my late father was known to observe when he suggested, "In every piece of truth there is some rhetoric and in every piece of rhetoric there is some truth." To illustrate how these two ideas relate to one another, we need only look to the things we do each day as we carry out our fire service responsibilities.

As managers it has long been said that we have the proverbial 'open-door' policy which means we want disclosure of information so that we can best operate our various organizations. But alas, every time an employee invokes that allegorical open door opportunity, fire administration drops the hammer on them. The result - eventually people stop coming through the door, the door that turns out not to be quite so open. Have you eaten your own cooking when that happens? Arguably, not.

What about the rhetoric and truth you ask? Well, the rhetoric here is in the truth that while there is actually an open door policy, it's really not in truth open, but masquerading as such; hence, that's in reality rhetoric; symbolic only, ergo of no real use.

Another way of understanding this concept about eating our own cooking might be to recognize it from the parental posture; you know it all too well. Mom and dad have been adamant about their children not smoking and as they admonish the children not to smoke, they light up their own. We kind of do that in the fire service too, do we not? As my Operations Chief Kimberly Neisler notes in one email signature line, "Leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not." If we say one thing and do another, we're not eating our own cooking. Rhetorically, do you admonish personnel one way and then not apply it yourselves? (compare Romans 2:21)

We admonish our personnel to treat people decently and with respect, and yet when given the situation for us to actually do that, we do not. In fire operations that may well be about a performance issue, in our life safety services divisions, it may involve a property owner, architect, or developer. Instead of demonstrating deference to the other person and this business mantra, we sit and we sit hard on them forcing them to an unfair labor practice (ULP) claim or to a third party board of overseers (DEC statement as an example) to settle what might well have been settled without such trumpet blast.

Whenever we as industry officials and managers force a matter to go outside our own spans of control, we're not 'eating our own cooking'. Why is that? Because in review, resolution was all too clear, yet not applied. Why not? In part, because that resolution did not uphold the findings of the superior ranking individual involved.

When a subordinate comes in with a remedy through that symbolically established open door, why not take in what they bring? Why does it have to be the Chief's way? Why can't it be the subordinates? When a property owner, developer, designer, or engineer brings in a resolution, can't that work or does it actually not work because it came from them? We need to be circumspect here, it is all too critical for an appropriate outcome. There are three kinds of people (managers in this concern) in this life; which one are you?

The person that makes things happen, the person that watched things happen, or the person that wondered what just happened?

So as we go about our daily activities, can we not do a better job at eating our own cooking and not make our roles as difficult as many have. Frankly, it's simply not that tough - Let's do a better job of eating our own cooking.

Article Provided by:

Bart Wright, CFPA

Asst. Chief, Maitland Fire Department