July/August 2007 Issue Number 91
Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.
We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Fire Rescue International, August 23-25, 2007 Atlanta, GA. Linda Willing will be teaching the following workshops at this conference:
Leading Diverse Teams Pre-conference seminar, Wednesday August 22
Leading Diverse Teams-- Company Officer Symposium Thursday, August 23
Unite and Conquer: Finding Common Ground in the Diverse World at Work Sunrise seminar, Friday August 24
Speaking the Language
About fifteen years ago, I was a fire officer in Boulder, Colorado responding on a medical call to an apartment building just two doors down from the fire station. When we got there, a frantic man told us in very broken English that his friend was sick. When we entered the apartment, it was full of young people talking a mile a minute in what turned out to be Russian. As we began treatment, hindered by the language barrier, all I could think was, "Where did all these Russian people come from?"
We were used to dealing with languages other than English. Spanish was common, as were various languages of southeast Asia. But Russian? Ukrainian? Sub-Saharan dialects? That medical run was a wake up call for just how diverse our community had become.
Nowadays it is common for fire departments in every part of the country to be dealing with dozens of languages other than English. These language differences can cause misunderstandings and even errors in decision making, as important information might not be accurately conveyed. How can your organization do better when faced with the challenges of serving an increasingly multilingual community?
Many approaches have been tried. Some departments pay a premium for language ability or use it as a factor in hiring. Others provide on-duty language classes or create programs of on-call translators. Some fire departments, like the one in Kissimmee, Florida, provide "cheat sheets" or flash cards with the most commonly used phrases spelled out phonetically. Some departments tap into community resources and form partnerships with advocacy groups.
Kissimmee firefighters have found that their laminated cards of common Spanish phrases (the service community is now 42% Hispanic) not only allow them to collect critical information from patients, but also have the effect of calming people whose language differences contribute to increased fear and stress. Fire Chief Robert King said, "Anything you can do to make customers feel a little more comfortable is important."
Resort communities often hire seasonal workers from around the world, and these young people can make excellent translators. Grand County, Colorado fire departments have partnered with international employees at the nearby Snow Mountain YMCA facility who have volunteered to assist with translation as necessary.
And don't forget the children. Young children pick up languages readily and can often act as translators for their parents or older relatives. Even children as young as four or five years old can sometimes serve in this critical role.
Dealing with increasingly diverse language communities is a challenge for all fire departments these days, whether they are in metropolitan New York or rural Iowa. Many creative approaches exist, and a little effort goes a long way.
Source: Orlando Sentinel, June 18, 2007