The afternoon of February 1, 2017 was sunny and pleasant, but by sundown the temperature began dropping, a light rain fell, and then quickly turned to snow. The wet road surfaces formed a sheet of black ice and there were multiple motor vehicle accidents over the next few hours, including the one in the photo that I responded to as a fire department battalion chief.
Sliding Down the Hill
Initially we were dispatched to a report of an incident involving a tanker truck and a car. Both vehicles were traveling up a hill when the driver in front panicked and applied his brakes. The truck was following at a safe distance and as the driver slowed, the truck began to slide backwards coming to rest on the side of the road at an angle. Fortunately, the truck did not roll over the embankment, but we faced a situation that took hours to correct.
The truck rested in a precarious position on the side of the embankment and could not move. Additionally, the tanker was full of crude oil adding to the complexity. There were two major tasks that we needed to accomplish to bring the incident to a safe conclusion:
- Secure the tanker with heavy-duty tow trucks to prevent it from rolling down the embankment.
- Transfer the crude oil from the involved tanker to another one.
These tasks were completed in the dark, with below freezing temperatures, and a coating of ice on the roadway. Furthermore, we were working on a hill that increased the slipping hazard.
This incident involved the coordinated efforts of the fire department, two law enforcement agencies, the Colorado Department of Transportation, two different wrecker companies, and the trucking company. The mission was a success. There were no injuries, no spilled crude oil, and there no damage to the tanker truck.
Why were we successful? Everyone at the scene of the emergency was technically and tactically proficient in their jobs, but the story goes deeper than that and involves clear communication. Not only face-to-face communication, but radio communication with dispatch and law enforcement, and phone communications with the wreckers and trucking company. Everyone involved clearly communicated their resource needs and what actions were required to safely perform the tasks.
Why can’t people clearly communicate with one another? What prevents the front office from communicating with the employees on the manufacturing floor? Why do people use the excuse of remote work to justify their inability to speak with someone else?
There is more than one answer to those questions. In his book Everyone Communicates Few Connect, John C. Maxwell states, “Connecting is more skill than natural talent.” Developing a skill requires time, training, and practice. What are you doing to improve your communication skills? Comment below and reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit my website at www.impactusleadership.com.