By Bill Tricarico
Senior Risk Management Consultant
McNeil & Company, Inc.
Exception. I hate that word. Exceptional is a good word since the Emergency Services are full of exceptional people, but the word exception…not so much. Our Fire and EMS organizations have been built around rules as a necessity because life and death situations are involved. We’ve developed these rules as a result of trial and error and learned, some-times the hard way what is necessary and what is not. As a result, I cringe when I hear that someone made an “exception to the rule.”
That doesn’t mean rules must be hard and fast. As a matter of fact rules should be written to be flexible to fit the situation without losing their meaning. For instance suppose you had a rule that training will always be in full protective gear. If the temperature is approaching 95 degrees the rule could be dangerous but at the same time you don’t want to sacrifice safety. So perhaps the full gear rule should also state that no training will take place in temperatures over 90 degrees. You can still train another day and there was no need to make “an exception to the rule” and train without gear. If we keep making exceptions to the rule, than why have the rule?
An EMS organization I recently visited had a rule that no one who had three moving violations on their motor vehicle record over the last three years was permitted to drive an ambulance. Excellent rule! After all, risk management experts have known for years that a person’s driving record is a great indicator of future potential collisions. Also, someone involved in an accident with a poor driving record is difficult to defend. Well, the Director of the organization told me that they are going to make an exception to the rule for a particular driver who had a horrible driving record. When I asked why he told me that the person lived close to the station and could get the ambulance out quicker. In reality, he was making the organization’s worst driver their primary driver and what good would get-ting the ambulance out quicker be if it didn’t make it to the patient.
Whether your fire department or EMS organization is volunteer, career, or commercial, making an exception is breaking the rules. If the rules need exceptions it’s probably a good time to re-visit why you have it in the first place or whether it’s still relevant. Another problem occurs when you make a rule for one person and make an exception for another? That will almost certainly impact morale and potentially be considered discriminatory.
I once read, “Good business ethics discourage making exceptions to rules and encourage making sure rules reflect the current environment a company or organization is operating in.” That certainly makes sense to me. Most rules have proven to make our lives safer and to help us do our jobs better and as such; we should respect and follow them. Rules were NOT meant to be broken and if properly written and updated they will always work…no exceptions.