Those in peril on Form C

Remember the story of the RNLI volunteers being sacked for upsetting some bureaucrat? Well now the Coastguard have got in on the act:

The coastguard sacked two volunteers after they rescued a car from a cliff edge — because, despite not being used, the agency’s Land Rover was still on the scene.

Richard Clarkson and Ian Pedrick had more than 60 years’ of life saving experience behind them when they were fired from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) after the incident in Bolberry Down near Salcombe, Devon.

Richard and Ian, who followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by becoming a member of the coastguard 42 years ago, were part of a team sent to the scene of a runaway car.

But when they got there the crew stood down because the vehicle had stopped further down the slope and no lives were in danger.

The pair decided to change out of their coastguard uniform and used Richard’s personal Land Rover and equipment to tow it back from the cliff edge.

But because the coastguard vehicle had not been brought back to the station they were both still on duty and moving the car was not in their remit.

They were deemed to have committed a technical breach even though they has not used the coastguard’s Land Rover or any supplied equipment.

Ian said: ‘We have been dismissed with immediate effect.

Here’s the problem. The sort of people who volunteer for the Coastguard and RNLI are goal-driven, meaning they are inspired to donate their time and efforts because they want to help others. By contrast, the sort of people who infest the middle management of modern organisations are process-driven, and are concerned only that the right steps in the procedure have been followed and their next promotion is locked in. Whether some poor sod being swept out to sea lives or dies is immaterial: they didn’t join the Coastguard because they wanted to save people from drowning. Note also that the person who made the decision remains anonymous, which is consistent with this weasel statement:

The MCA said it would be ‘inappropriate to comment at this time’.

Then a few days later we had this:

Two veteran volunteer coastguards have resigned after they say they were reprimanded for taking a teenager to hospital in a van instead of an ambulance.

The officer in charge (OIC) of Croyde Coastguard Rescue Team, in Devon, said he quit after being told he would have to start his training again.

He said a female colleague with 18 years’ experience also resigned.

The former coastguard said on Sunday 23 June at 01:00 BST his team was called to help an 18-year-old man who had drunk too much and was unconscious, cold and wet in the sand dunes.

They found him and together with a paramedic put him on a stretcher to wait for an ambulance.

“We had a couple of ambulances on route but they were diverted,” he said, adding that the paramedic said it could be two hours before an ambulance was available.

He said they put the young man in the back of his van with the paramedic and drove to hospital.

He was reprimanded the next day and told he would have to go back through the training process, he said.

The former coastguard said he accepted he did not follow the guidelines, but had acted in the best interests of the casualty.

There is no room for judgement or nuance in the modern organisation. It is follow the rules to the letter or face the consequences. This approach might work if you’re running an airline or an oil company, but not when you’re dealing with volunteer organisations. Volunteers by definition are driven by intrinsic motivators – a sense of purpose, responsibility, task ownership, task identification, self-esteem, etc. – rather than extrinsic motivators such as a salary. If you kill off those motivators then people simply won’t volunteer any more. I give it a generation before the likes of the RNLI and Coastguard are bereft of volunteers and begging the government for funds.

As a wise man once said, while processes and procedures are necessary for the efficient and effective running of an organisation, they must remain subservient to the organisation’s primary goals.


12 thoughts on “Those in peril on Form C

  1. Charity Commission rules and “guidelines” make it ever more laborious to volunteer. This generates quite a lot of administrative overhead which small charities find increasingly burdensome and it is also harder to enrol people prepared to give up their time if you start the association with them by treating them as criminals.

    Some of the requirements are patently absurd: trustees for a children’s charity need to be DBS vetted even when the charity’s activities are overseas and the trustees never leave the UK or have contact with children on the charity’s business.

    Naturally, for large and well-known institutions, derogations are possible such that charity workers receive sexual favours from those they are meant to help or overt political campaigning becomes part of their remit.

  2. All is fair in love and war.

    The rules of engagement should be such that they are easily and quickly followed in the event of an incident unfolding in front of you. When faced with a life threatening situation, the rescuers response must be hard wired through practice and drills and be perfectly legal, or why have the service in the first place?

    And am I the only way that thinks about the poor old vehicle and that it was also rescued?

  3. The rules of engagement should be such that they are easily and quickly followed in the event of an incident unfolding in front of you

    What happens when “the Rules” don’t cover the emergency?
    Or when they partly cover the emergency, but not all?
    Or when following “the Rules” is likely to end up with the victim dead?

    “All plans fail on contact with the enemy”. These organisations need people with experience who can think on their feet. Instead they’ll end up with people who are experts at pretending to grieve at the death of strangers and who are experts in glib social media posting.

  4. If all anyone has to do in an organisation is follow a prescribed set of rules, the robot/AI takeover may be much closer than I imagined.

  5. Back in about 1996 I volunteered at my childs’ elementary school, doing reading ability assessments for a class of 7 year olds. This was a fine experience, and they called me the next year to see if I’d be available again. I said yes. The schol district office emailed me to say I’d have to have a sheriff’s department background check done, because I would be working with kids. I said this was not required last year, and they said that was a mistake and should have been done.
    OK, shrug. I said sure, no problem, but first I wanted to see a copy of the districts data security and retention policy (i.e. who has access and how long do they keep it). They said OK.
    Never heard from them again.
    (Found out later from a teacher that the background check was not actually necessary, because I did all my work in the classroom with the teacher present.)
    Not a power-play situation in this case, but simple bureaucratic laziness & incompetence. It’s just easier for the district office person to 1) not have enough volunteers, (because who cares, I’m not the teacher in the classroom), and 2) not do any actual work that might be even slightly out of the ordinary.

  6. A story told to me by a volunteer firefighter from a neighboring county about an incident a few years ago.

    There was a structure fire in the city, just at the city/county line. Following standard procedure, dispatchers called for a response from the city’s professional fire department and mutual aid from the county’s volunteer fire department.

    Professional city fire department was first on scene — and sat & waited with rising frustration, because their procedures required the Officer In Charge to be on scene before firefighters could enter a burning building. OIC travelled in his separate taxpayer-provided city vehicle, and apparently had got held up. Volunteer county fire department arrived a couple of minutes later, and put out the fire by the time the city’s OIC showed up. Happy volunteers!

    Sadly, since then, bureaucracy has got its evil arms around many US volunteer fire departments, with similar results to what is reported for the UK Coastguard.

  7. Could this be another example of the difference between Roman and Common law? In the former, some things are allowed. In the latter, anything goes so long as it’s not allowed.
    These incidents are getting more common. Those bobbies who failed to rescue a drowning girl from five feet of water because they hadn’t had water safety training, the Deputy Met Commander who left the scene because he wasn’t appropriately dressed, and no doubt many others occasions that make only local headlines.

  8. I don’t know what the tort climate is like in the UK, but if this were the US or Canada I’d say this sounds a lot like liability ass-covering. Had anything untoward happened while they were using a personal vehicle in their civvies the organization could have been sued.

  9. @Daniel Ream,

    “Sounds like liability ass-covering”

    Pretty much, although it’s not the risk of being sued personally, or even organisationally for millions.

    To break the organisational rules is a black mark that can hinder the career in the bureaucracy. To not be in the bureaucracy is death itself.

    It is a sort of sovietization and will produce the same end result. “We pretend to work and you pretend to pay us”.

    Volunteers in things like RNLI will be first to go but you just need to look at the police (well advanced along the road to the progressive sunny uplands) to see the more general future.

  10. @james harries Not the kind of Roman Law i recognise. You’re thinking of the codified law of Western Europe based on the Code Napoleon.

  11. Pretty much, although it’s not the risk of being sued personally, or even organisationally for millions.

    To break the organisational rules is a black mark that can hinder the career in the bureaucracy. To not be in the bureaucracy is death itself.

    Indeed, Daniel is right that this started out with ass-covering to avoid being sued, but strict adherence to the procedures is now the compliance test with which you are judged in an organisation.

  12. “@james harries Not the kind of Roman Law i recognise. You’re thinking of the codified law of Western Europe based on the Code Napoleon.”

    Which is itself an entirely incorrect and tediously widespread misrepresentation. Everything is allowed except this shit listed here.

    Far superior to the common law Tort system where judges can make up crimes on the hoof.

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