Posted by: medicblog999 | December 6, 2009

Meeting the Chief…..Day 2

CoEMS

This is taking a hell of a lot more words than I imagined to share this trip with you all. Hopefully you don’t mind, but I have a feeling that you are in reality going to get the first draft of the book I hope to write about my trip. Todays post is about the start of day 2 and our meeting with the Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department.

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I am woken by my alarm going off and I reach across and pick up my beloved iPhone, glancing at the screen…06.45am.

Oh well, who needs sleep. I can always catch up with that another day.

Today was going to be an important day for ‘The Project’.

In two hours time I was going to get to meet the Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department along with the Chief of EMS.

I really didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to prepare for my meeting. It’s hard to think about things to discuss before I have even had an opportunity to work within the system. I had some things that I had to chat about but they were mostly based on things I had read from Justin’s and others blogs. The rest was going to be based on my ‘preconceptions’ and the hope that we would find some commonality to share a good discussion.

I know its hard to believe, but I really am quite a shy guy. Honestly, if I am going into a situation where I am meeting people for the first time, I always get that usual twang of anxiety. I know I will have Justin with me, but we have only just met too. No pressure then…

Justin and Ted arrived at the hotel in time for us to get to the SFFD Headquarters for 9, and we headed down to the building for the meeting. Justin was wearing his formal uniform along with his hat and tie, and looked really rather smart.

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Justin and I infront of Knickerbocker 5

I had managed to arrange an ‘officers’ uniform from my service so that I could look a little bit smart and professional. In usual circumstances I only have the choice of my lovely green jumpsuit or my new polo shirts and green trousers. I knew that there was no way that I was going to say hello to the Chief of Department wearing one of my green jump suits, so before I left the UK, I beg, stole and borrowed from some of my management colleagues and ended up with a smart white NEAS crested shirt, black tie, and metal epaulettes. It wasn’t exactly a formal dress uniform, but It was certainly better than the other option.

As we headed down to the HQ, Justin asked if I knew what I was going to ask.

“Errr, I have a few ideas of some questions I want to get in, but really I think I will just see where the conversation goes”

Fingers crossed then!!

Outside of the building, I got to meet Chris, who quickly became known as ‘THE DRIDGE!’. Chris was going to be our 2nd cameraman for the duration of the week. He initially seemed a little shy, but very quickly, he too became an integral part of our small but rapidly growing Chronicles of EMS Team.
We did a quick introduction video and a walking shot into the HQ building, then it was time to go in.

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Ted, Chris and Justin outside HQ

Justin led the way and we stopped off in the foyer  so he could tell me a little about the history of his Department. He is obviously a real history aficionado, and has a passion for the service that he now works for. I was told all about Knickerbocker 5 , the Great Earthquake and Fire of San Francisco, and various other points of interest to see around the entrance to the headquarters.

We then made our way up to Lt Talmadge`s office. I had a number of email conversations with her during the run up to the trip and it was obvious that she had been crucial in getting the permissions required for me to come over and more importantly for Ted and Chris to be able to film the U.S side of things. It was great to finally meet her and she was a lovely warm and welcoming woman. She seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing and was keen to find out more. She showed us through the maze of corridors to the conference room adjacent to the Chiefs Office.

We stood nervously by the side of the table wondering where we should sit and who would be sitting where around this large table.

Ted and Chris set their cameras up at opposite ends of the room and talked technical stuff about who should shoot who and what colour settings they should use. It was around this point that we started to wonder how the Chief would take being filmed whilst talking about her service, the potential problems they have and the future plans for the organisation. Lt Talmadge assured us that she thought the Chief would be fine with the filming, so we waited patiently for the grand entrance.

Chief Howe (Chief of EMS) came in first, resulting in Justin snapping to attention and throwing up a salute. Quick introductions were made and we stood around chatting about general things for a couple of minutes until the side door from the Chiefs Office opened and in walked Chief Hayes-White. Justin saluted again and said “Good Morning Chief!”, then she headed over to me hand outstrectched and gave a friendly hello and asked us to sit. I presented her with a wooden plaque from the North East Ambulance Service and then took my seat next to her at the table.

She turned to say hello to Ted and Chris and asked if she was ok to sit where she was. Guess there will be no problem with the filming then!

The conversation started with the Chief asking how my service works, how it is structured and confirming that we are separate from the Fire service. We then went into how the Fire and EMS services merged in San Francisco and how that affected service provision for the local population and how the merger affected the staff on the road at the time. It was fascinating to hear the story, but it sounds like it was a nightmare time for those in both the Fire Service and the Ambulance service. Justin went into more details about it later in the week and it brings to mind a scary possible future for the UK Ambulance Services. It has always been a black spectre waiting around the corner for us. I really don’t think it will happen, but I am sure there will be some convergence in our roles in the future. In fact it has already started with the development of our HART Teams.

Chief Hayes White told me how she used to be a student in Durham for a short time (my home town, and about 15 miles away from Newcastle) earlier in her life, and we enjoyed a little bit of reminiscence before we got stuck into the main part of our discussion after I asked the question :

“So where will your service be in 5 or 10 years time?”

It seems like it’s going to continue to be a period of change, just like in my service and probably every other progressive service around the world. The system is obviously trying to become more efficient with efficiency savings being required each year, along with possible changing roles  and skill sets throughout certain aspects of the service. The senior management have a plan in mind, but what I found odd was the fact that the Chief is an appointed position which goes along with the current Mayor of the City. Therefore whenever the Mayor finishes his term or losses an election, a new chief will be appointed. That must make it really hard to plan for the long term, but they seem to be trying their best by getting long term plans in and under way before the Chief has to change.

The conversation went off into various directions which are too numerous to go into on this blog including discussions about the NHS model of providing pre-hospital care, however it was all filmed by Ted and Chris and I am sure will be shown to some extent in the first episode of the Chronicles of EMS.

What I know will definitely be shown at some point, is the amazing small speech that Chief Hayes-White gave to the camera, where she said how impressed she was with what we were doing and how great it is that we are sharing this with so many people around the world by using Facebook, Blogs and Twitter. She stated how she was looking forward to hearing about my impressions of her service and any suggestions that I could bring to the table before I went.

How cool was that! A paramedic team leader from the UK having the ear of such an influential and powerful political figure in San Francisco!

My lasting impression of her was one of a truly amazing woman. I can see why she has done so well. She had the ability to put me at ease straightaway but at the same time you can tell that she would be a formidable adversary if you had to go to bat against her.

We finished off the meeting with another round of handshakes, and she took the time to go and thank Ted and Chris also (another big tick in my book!!). We left the building and stood outside looking a bit gob smacked.

Ted summed it up best :

“Did that really happen?, That was Awesome!!”

The support for our Project and the Chronicles of EMS was very obviously there from the seniority of the SFFD. There was no evidence of the almost paranoia surrounding social media within the NHS and within my service. It was a great way to start off the trip and it was a wonderful feeling to know that the highest people in the service were supporting us and did so publicly and on film.

This sparked an idea in Justins mind. If we have the Chief on board, why not the Mayor of San Francisco?

At the same time, I realised that I didn’t get the photograph that I had wanted of Justin and I with Chief Hayes-White. I was a little disappointed but still on a high following the meeting. Justin decided that It would be fine to head back in and ask Lt Talmadge to request a couple of minutes with the Chief again so we could get the photograph. Little did I know that his mind was working away at a potential scoop also.

We go back into Lt Talmadges office, and she informs me that the Chief has popped out of her office for a minute but should be back soon. She doesn’t think she would mind being disturbed for a photo, so we wait for her return.

Justin then tries his luck :

“So, Lt, we were wondering how easy it would be to get a meeting with the Mayor about what we are doing?”

“Its possible I guess, I could call someone in his office and try and sort something out”

Just then, the Chief comes back in and Lt Talmadge asks if we could grab a quick photograph for our websites.

“Of course, no problem. Do you want to just come into my office for it?”

As I walk into the office, I cant help but notice a photo of the Chief with President OBama….Cool!

We pose for the photo and Lt Talmadge mentions that we are trying to get a meeting with the Mayor, to gain his support for our Program.

“Oh right, good idea. I will give his private secretary a ring and see if he will have a short meeting with you”

Wow, this might actually happen. What an exclusive endorsement that would be!

It was never going to be that easy though………

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The Chief, Justin and I

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Responses

  1. Wonderful writing, Mark! Speaking for myself, I don't mind what you perceive as “wordiness.” I love great detail.

  2. Wonderful writing, Mark! Speaking for myself, I don't mind what you perceive as “wordiness.” I love great detail.

  3. Great post! Loved reading it, pretty cool that you met the head chief, and looking to see what happens next. One thing, though – It's “Obama”, not “O'Bama”. Just thought I'd point it out. 😉

  4. Mark, I'm enjoying these posts. I like hearing the details and your feelings about what was happening. I'll be looking forward to hearing the rest.

  5. Mark, I'm enjoying these posts. I like hearing the details and your feelings about what was happening. I'll be looking forward to hearing the rest.

  6. […] was it really like to meet the San Francisco fire chief? Find out in a two-part tale. (999 […]

  7. Nice post Mark!I really like the professionalism and respect coupled with the smart formal uniforms that these guys use. I fully believe that the less formal approach that we have in the UK helps in some cases but also means that at times we don't get the respect that we deserve……

  8. Nice post Mark!I really like the professionalism and respect coupled with the smart formal uniforms that these guys use. I fully believe that the less formal approach that we have in the UK helps in some cases but also means that at times we don't get the respect that we deserve……

  9. Nice post Mark!I really like the professionalism and respect coupled with the smart formal uniforms that these guys use. I fully believe that the less formal approach that we have in the UK helps in some cases but also means that at times we don't get the respect that we deserve……

  10. Nice post Mark!I really like the professionalism and respect coupled with the smart formal uniforms that these guys use. I fully believe that the less formal approach that we have in the UK helps in some cases but also means that at times we don't get the respect that we deserve……

  11. […] @UKMedic999: New blog post: Meeting the Chief…..Day 2 http://999medic.com/2009/12/06/meeting-the-chief-day-2/ […]


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