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Straight Talk: March 2015

I think everyone has seen the humorous pictures with anecdotes on social media platforms or email inboxes. Usually I glance at them and move on, but recently one stood out: a leader speaking to a group of followers asks “Who wants change?” and everyone raises their hands. In the next frame, the leader asks “Who wants to change?” Not surprisingly, there isn’t a hand in the air.

Change tends to be interpreted negatively, however, the only way to move forward is to change. In fact, failing to change often yields negative results for those who try to remain static while everything changes around them.

For the fire service, simple co-operation and co-ordination with other municipal departments or agencies that serve the same group of customers can be an effective way to incorporate positive change.

When fire-service managers fail to co-operate with other municipal departments, managers of those departments, and our customers – the public – tend to think we are protecting our turf. No longer is it unique for municipal managers to co-operate with other city departments or even outside agencies. To collaborate and search for effective cost saving and service-enhancement opportunities means the fire department must compromise, but not necessarily concede. Chiefs need to be prepared to communicate solutions to fire department challenges and include some ideas that may have been presented by other municipal departments. This approach also gives fire-service leaders the opportunity to present successful fire department ideas, strategies and successes to municipal colleagues and can result in respect and support from municipal leaders.

Dynamic, sustainable organizations must remain active and engaged in their realms. Organizations that resist change will become extinct. There is a choice; guide it or ride it. Our industry leaders have the opportunity to lay the foundation today for the fire service they believe is appropriate for tomorrow. A commitment to think openly and have a vision can lead to a positive future for the fire service; remaining passive will lead to extinction. Although municipal fire services are generally cherished community organizations, they will not live on forever if fire-service leaders choose to maintain the status quo because other service providers – public and private – offer more economical options.

Progress is not a continual slope upward, rather it is a series of peaks and valleys with each peak giving way to a plateau, and each valley more gentle than the one before it. Times of rest help us to adjust to the new normal and provide the opportunity to prepare the organization and its members for the next climb. Use the valleys to reflect on where your organization and you have been. Cherish accomplishments, even those that may have been short-lived; they may have shown the way to the new normal. Use these situations to analyze how or why an initiative wasn’t as successful as anticipated; look for opportunities to take further actions that may result in a more successful implementation of a new or revised program or idea. Keep an open mind about what opportunities exist.

Most departments are now long past the do-more-with-less attitude that has plagued the fire service for years; in fact, most are at the point of doing less with less. Perhaps the best-case scenario now is to find things that can be done differently so that fire departments can more efficiently maintain or improve service and safety in our communities and for firefighters. If that were the case, there would be hands in the air when the question “Who wants to change?” is asked, because change necessitates doing something differently, not just waiting on others while the fire service maintains the status quo.

Opportunities and examples of change are vast; many are spoken about at fire-service conferences, workshops and seminars. Some of the simplest and most easily implemented ideas are often right there in front of us, created and implemented by people we deal with every day, including our peers in other municipal departments. Don’t be afraid to embrace some of their ideas. Although an idea may come from outside the fire service, it may be adapted with great success.

Fire service leaders are not always required to be the change champions but there are times when it is appropriate to be the coach, cheerleader or even, perhaps, the naysayer. In each of those roles, you could inspire someone else to present a new idea. Co-operation and co-ordination with other municipal departments will improve efficiency and effectiveness of the fire service with the goal of ensuring a strong and sustainable fire-protection system in the community.


* Carousel photo from Flickr by Kenny Louie


Kevin Foster is the fire chief and emergency management co-ordinator in Midland, Ont. Contact him at kfoster@midland.ca and follow him on Twitter at @KFoster_FSEM

March 2, 2015
By Kevin Foster

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