Leadership Forum: May 2011

Creating partnerships with unexpected allies
April 27, 2011
Written by Les Karpluk, Lyle Quan
Our last few columns have focused on reframing your future, promoting a positive culture and building relationships in your fire departments. These concepts are critical because they help to identify strengths, weaknesses and responsibilities regarding people, management and succession planning.

Now we want to touch on the value of creating and building partnerships – not just within the department, but with other organizations and communities.

Building partnerships is more than just creating a larger pool of contacts; it’s about expanding your support network. Creating this network allows you to draw on the experiences and skills of others and removes the one-dimensional mindset in which the fire service tends to become immersed. We must think outside the box: instead of wondering who we can partner with, we should ask what organizations would benefit from relationships with the fire service and search out these organizations. For example, why not ask a local lumberyard to sponsor a fire-prevention program for elementary schoolchildren or have the Lions Club help promote fire safety? Why not ask an auto dealer or other local business to sponsor a fire-related youth program?

To ensure that your department supplies the best service for the community and the best development opportunities for your people, you must have a variety of options to draw upon. That’s where partnerships come into play; they allow departments to make continuous improvements through shared information and resources. They also offer possible training opportunities that may not exist without those partnerships. We all know we live in a time of lean finances and resources, and the fire service is expected to find creative ways to meet community needs. This is why depositing into your community account is essential; that is, it helps to make the community a safer place to live, work and raise families. Creating partnerships in the community enhances the department’s role and its image.

Another way to build and capitalize on partnerships is to focus on what your department does best and look for partnerships to fill the gaps. For example, fire departments are proficient in fire suppression, auto extrication and medical-related incidents, but many don’t get much training or practice in hazardous materials response, confined-space rescues and water rescues. Securing mutual aid with neighbouring departments is smart business. Mutual-aid partners can identify their strengths and weaknesses so that all members of a mutual-aid group can provide a well-rounded and cost-effective level of service. Think about a partnership with your public works department to work together on trench-rescue incidents. Is it out of the question to have the public works department take a leading role in trench rescue? We need to get rid of egos and seek partnerships to keep our communities safe.

Leadership is about blazing new trails, demonstrating creativity and being able to adapt to changing demands. Leaders striving to develop partnerships may face opposition from other municipal departments looking for bigger pieces of the budget and that’s where partnerships can pay dividends (by being cost effective). Good partnerships create synergies that benefit every organization involved. Therefore, the overall performance of the partnership is higher than that of the single entity.

Mukesh Ambani, an Indian business magnate, compared partnerships to centipedes: when all the legs work together, there is a strong organizational structure; but if one or two legs do not work, you should still be able to depend on the partnerships that you have built on the other legs. Partnerships create a strong foundation in your quest to serve your community and your staff.

Future leaders need to be skilled at managing partnerships and the relationships that develop out of them. Qualities such as integrity, vision and self-confidence will be essential, but building partnerships is becoming a requirement, not an option, for future leaders. Search out these partnerships – you may be surprised at who is waiting to team up with the fire department. Even if some of the partnerships don’t prove to be beneficial to all the organizations involved, you can at least say you’ve tried.

The fire service has made great strides in the past couple of decades. We are proud of our traditions but today’s leaders understand that we live in a world very different from that of our ancestors. Visionary leaders will continue to expand their department’s image in the community. Embrace partnerships and reap the benefits.

Les Karpluk is the fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan.

Lyle Quan is the fire chief of the Waterloo Fire Department in Ontario. Both are graduates of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration program.

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