By Jamie Thompson
Photo Jamie Thompson
Instructor Mary Sovick speaks to an education session at FRI in Denver Thursday about the importance of strong writing skills in the fire service.
DENVER — It's a skill many departments underestimate the importance of — and all too many firefighters struggle to manage.
Strong writing skills are becoming ever more significant in today's fire service, particularly when it comes to writing post-incident reports.
Attendees at an education session at Fire-Rescue International Thursday were told that attorneys often focus on such documents when building civil liability cases for their clients.
Mary Sovick, owner/instructor of Fireline Training and Consulting, told the session that writing is an area that departments and firefighters need to pay more attention to.
"If a department completely ignores these skills … people are left woefully unprepared for the tasks that face them in their everyday work."
Sovick, a retired firefighter from South Metro Denver Fire & Rescue, has been teaching writing training for more than 10 years and is also an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy.
Quoting previous presentations by respected risk management and civil liability authority Gordon Graham, Sovick said, "You need to take report writing much more seriously than you currently do for a whole bunch of good reasons."
One of the biggest is the fact that as firefighters progress in their careers and assume more responsibility, she said, they are more exposed to liability claims.
According to Sovick, Graham has outlined two criteria for firefighters to follow to protect themselves and their departments from civil liability: "You need to do the job right – and you must be able to prove it."
Being subpoenaed has become a normal part of a firefighter's working life nowadays, Sovick said.
"Generally, when people in the fire service are subpoenaed, authorities, in their efforts to try to look for witnesses, begin with our reports," she said.
Sovick said good writing abilities affect various areas, from a firefighter's reputation to opportunities for promotions.
She went on to warn departments against the frequent use of abbreviations in reports, particularly where there's no common consensus of them such as LOC, which carries a variety of meanings.
"Abbreviations get us in trouble when we don't have them standardized," she said.