• Operations Rx

Don't Inhale



I spent several years as a Paid-On-Call firefighter for a small town in Illinois. It was one of the most exciting and rewarding jobs that I have had the opportunity to experience. We would train throughout the week, simulating situations that were encountered by busier departments. We would train and wait. Train some more and wait. Usually, at the most inopportune time, the tones would drop, and we were off and running with sirens blaring. Our job was to put out the fire and we loved it.


Every year we would go to U of I Fire Academy where we were trained by some of the toughest firemen in the country. They would run us through the mill during some of the hottest summer months. One year at the academy, our teacher said something that changed how I viewed the fire service. He asked what your first action would be if you arrived at a fire and you knew someone was still in the house. We all knew the answer to this! It was easy. Save the life!  But he corrected this group of new “smoke eaters”. He stated, “You put out the fire”. If you eliminate the root cause, then the life is no longer in danger. My thought process changed around how I would evaluate a fire scene from that point on. The best way to put out a fire was to prevent it from happening. Simple but profound.


Putting out fires can become a daily job for most manufacturing companies. We hate that they show up, but we get so much satisfaction from taking care of the situation. We begin to believe that there is nothing we can’t handle. Our thought processes become focused around the fire, and we have a hard time seeing beyond it. We become comfortable in the fire. We love the heat. We get used to inhaling the smoke. We develop indicators that signal a firestorm is brewing. Heat and smoke detectors only warn you of the fire. In the end, you still have a path of destruction that could have been prevented but we failed to stop it from happening.


Fire prevention systems can be implemented with small adjustments to any process. Flexible workforce training, creating a Preventive Maintenance program, developing and stocking a list of key spare automation parts, placing inventory buffers in front of constrained work centers and split sourcing for key components can be just some of the simple processes that are put in place to prevent the daily wildfires that plague your company. Goldratt gave three simple steps to change.

  • What to change – Root Cause

  • What to change to – Simple Solutions

  • How to cause the change – Process to Track


Put out the fire and don’t inhale the smoke. Solve the immediate issue but then put a simple process in place using these steps to prevent it from happening again. Go home without the smell of smoke on your clothes.