Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
Operational management for site managers
Published:  29 September, 2016

A pilot masterclass that aims to help site managers better manage their industrial firefighters has been piloted in Rotterdam. Rob Jastrzebski joins the students on their final day.

The five-day pilot course jointly devised by Falck Fire Academy and Business School Netherlands has been so successful that it will now be offered worldwide.

The masterclass course on operational management for site managers (OMSM) centres on the challenges faced by site managers that manage an industrial fire fighting organisation, where good management skills are essential for dealing with the different organisations that may be involved.

The course is based on Action Learning, a method that the Business School Netherlands applies to all its courses, as general manager Frank Campman explains: “With this principle we teach people to have a broad vision of the issues and problems within their organisations and to take the time to find creative solutions. We encourage them to invest time in the group process rather than rely on standard answers that worked ten years ago but do not necessarily work today. The world is constantly changing and so do businesses and management styles. Our way of handling management issues is not just for site managers in industrial fire services and the skills can be applied in every business branch. We teach general skills to run a team effectively and efficiently.”

Uniquely, the curriculum of the OMSM masterclass does not cover the aspects traditionally associated with a fire fighting organisation, namely saving lives, fighting fires and limiting the damage of incidents. Instead it focuses on financial aspects; organisational management, planning and control; and managing the interests of customers on a strategic level. In summary, it covers many of the aspects that differentiate an industrial fire service from a public, municipal one including, for instance, stakeholder management through creative solutions.

For five days in September the students – all active site managers – had immersed themselves in the principles of financial management, leadership, planning cycles, risk analysis and operational preparedness at Falck’s international fire training centre in Maasvlakte Rotterdam. This was a familiar environment for them because they are all Falck site managers assigned to large industrial companies in Belgium, Germany, Romania and Brazil.

Gijs Brouwer, one of the course tutors as well as a project manager of Falck Fire Academy, explains that the number of students has been kept low in order to encourage interaction and knowledge sharing. The mix of students from all over the world is also intentional, as it results in a wider mix of experiences in local business, management culture and national legislation. “It was interesting to see the issues the different site managers had encountered and how those issues were resolved with their customers. Colleagues on other sites can learn from those experiences and solutions.”

Management skills and sensitivity to the needs of the customer, adds Brouwer, are needed now more than ever: “Those skills prove to be increasingly important in an era of rapid changes and shrinking budgets in the industry. How can a site manager of a company fire service balance the needs to deal with the risks involved against the expectations from the customer? Our site managers repeatedly indicate that there is a need for extra knowledge and tools to help run their fire organisation effectively and efficiently. The masterclass was designed for these requirements.”

On this, the final day of the course, the participants focus on the material, technical and educational aspects of operational preparedness, as well as the physical and social factors that can impact upon the level of readiness and quality of the fire team. How can the site manager cope with a customer cutting budgets and allowing the fire team too few hours for proper training and exercises? What if a customer wants to invest in quick incident response with minimal preparedness, and doesn’t want to pay for the hours needed to keep the fire team physically fit and healthy? Good negotiating skills are essential in cases like these.

A morning brainstorm discusses different training schedules, policy choices and decision-making criteria. In the afternoon it is interactive role play: a member of the fire team has died in an accident, what are the primary concerns? The psychological impact on the readiness and performance of the team could be considerable – and quite a challenging scenario for the site manager, who not only has to inform the family of the victim, but also has to take care of the team and the needs of the customer. How to restore the operational preparedness of the organisation? A fire team that is not fully functioning could lead to loss of confidence from the customer and to reputational damage.

At the end of the day the OMSM’s eight students receive their certificates from Robbert van der Veen, general manager of Falck Fire Academy. Antonio Carlos Martins, site manager of the Falck Fire Service stationed in Rio de Janeiro’s two major airports, says that the masterclass had put him in a stronger position: “I heard a lot of new things that I can apply in practice. Issues that could conflict with operational readiness and quality, which you have to take into account in operational management. In my opinion the international exchange of experiences was very useful.”

Oliver Chicin, Falck site manager at OMV oil refinery in the Romanian town of Ploiesti, is equally enthusiastic: “We have a strong relationship with the client and OMV provides sufficient possibilities to invest in the firefighting organisation, but sometimes we rely on negotiations in order to get things done. This masterclass definitely has provided new tools and skills and I feel strengthened in my position as site manager.”

The OMSM masterclass is now available worldwide for managers of fire service organisations.