When Are Mistakes Okay?

Dublin FireThere are a lot of different types of Company Officers in this line of work, and there are a whole lot of factors that make each of them unique.

One of those factors is their ability to determine the acceptability of mistakes.

Mistakes happen.  To everyone.  We’ve all got our butt chewed at one time or another, sometimes when we deserved it, and probably other times when we didn’t.

If you’re a company officer, you probably have an intuitive sense of when a mistake is a big deal and when it isn’t.  But how do you explain that to your superior, or write it down in a report?

When we start quantifying criteria for acceptable error, we start to determine that there are four reasons that people make mistakes.

Ignorance, arrogance, complacency, and negligence.

Ignorant mistakes are simple mistakes.  Someone screwed up because they didn’t know any better.  We see these from the new recruits on a regular basis, and they’re easy to forgive, provided that the individual owns it and learns from it.

Arrogant mistakes are made because someone overestimated their knowledge, skills, or abilities.  They thought they could do something they couldn’t, they convinced themselves they knew things they didn’t, and they got in over their heads.

Complacent mistakes happen when a person gets too comfortable and content where they are, and they stop learning, striving, and improving.  In some industries, this isn’t a big deal.  In the rapidly evolving and dynamic fire environment that we work in, it presents some serious hazards.

Negligent mistakes are made when an individual, knowing full well what they should do and how to do it, chooses to do something else.  The key component here is the conscious decision not to do something correctly, for whatever reason.  If this choice is made to have an intentionally bad impact on someone or something, it’s malicious negligence.

Looking at these categories, I think it’s not hard to determine what we can accept and forgive and where we need to hammer on someone.

Ignorant mistakes need to be corrected through training and education.  Easy.
Arrogant mistakes need to be corrected through attitude and culture adjustments.  Not as easy.
Complacent mistakes are more difficult to correct, and are starting to enter the realm of serious discipline.
Negligent mistakes cannot be tolerated, whether malicious or not.  A person who chooses to do something incorrectly, for any reason, at any time, has no place in the fire service.  There are industries out there where precision, accuracy, and thoroughness are not important, but this is not one of them.

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