What I Learned From a Fire

Jul 08, 2024 7:41 pm

Happy Monday!

Take a look at this photo!


Now, this photo is from the 4th of July at my in-laws place. This is a wildfire that started on their property. What isn't pictured here is the black smoldering field that goes to the horizon.

My father-in-law was not bothered by this, or concerned about the damage. He just wanted to make sure the fire went in the right direction. He used a leaf blower to put out flames in some spots and let others go on.

I saw a fire spreading much faster than he could deal with, and I saw trees erupt into flames 20 feet tall. To my father-in-law, just some hay he didn't need was burning up, and as long as it didn't go to his storage or other fields, he was fine with it. He also was confident that the fire wasn't strong enough to burn anything green.

Why bring this up? Well, this was a new thing I got to experience and I was struck by some similar situations I've had at work in the past.

So here's some interesting things that go on in a crisis:

  • It might be a crisis for more reasons than one
  • Everyone's reaction will vary, as will the intensity
  • You have to be very clear what you're solving for and what you're not
  • Triaging damage is sometimes more important than reacting
  • What you see is not all there is

These things are all true of this fire and true of every other work "emergency." I bring them up because its easy to forget them when you're in the moment, but vital to getting through the crisis safely.

There's another analogy I could make to when I did Ocean Rescue. When people struggle in the ocean, most people are worried about drowning. After a rescue, I'd sit with the person and family and tell them they weren't out of danger yet. I'd ask a series of questions and try to figure out if they inhaled any salt water. I'd then inform them that they might be at risk of saltwater asphyxiation or parking lot drowning. They only saw drowning in the ocean as an issue. I saw another danger they were unaware of.

So what is there to do? Well, slow down and breathe for starters. A clear head helps. If you need a group of people, help them to calm down, too. Be clear about what the dangers are and what damage is acceptable and isn't. Prepare to hear something surprising. Coordinate your work so people can work rapidly, and check in so that they don't get overwhelmed.

This email had me writing about wild fires and drowning, but downtime or a bad database update for most of us feels the same. So, it is a good idea to remember these little truths as we work through the situation.