By William Shouldis
The fire service cannot simply maintain the status quo. Having strict accountability for spending, consistency in quality improvements, and good documentation will allow better utilization of limited resources. Misaligned goals can be a distraction that wastes precious time and energy. To reduce communication and commitment issues, the Philadelphia Fire Department, through a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, held a one-day strategic planning conference for chief officers and nonuniform unit heads from the fiscal, human resources and management information departments, and the dispatch center.
The premise was to rapidly identify obstacles that could impede operational performance in the short (one year) and long term (three to five years). The emphasis was on a developing a practical planning and preparedness process that could be easily adapted into the culture of the public safety sector. Unfortunately, the fire service is no longer exempt from the continuous scrutiny of the “bean-counters”. Crime prevention and enhanced educational standards are often rated as a higher priority to the general public than a having a skilled fire/EMS service.
The seminar schedule sought to blend the values of the fire service with legal concerns and budgetary constraints. This agenda maintained a realistic sense of purpose to the instructional meeting. The program was divided between a lecture portion and a group activities portion to support the main purpose of establishing measurable actions that are controllable by the fire department membership. Topics discussed included time management, the need to prioritize activities, hints on maintaining a positive attitude, the value of collaboration, and personnel safety. Participants came to the conclusion that an emergency service organization must have regular opportunities for exchanging information and ideas to achieve “breakthrough” solutions for a better service delivery system. To improve productivity, there must be increased involvement by firefighters, paramedics, and company officers.
Setting the pace for change is one challenge for managing in the fire service. Having a slow rate of change with an introduction, an explanation, a template for target actions, and a gradual phase-in period is advantageous. However, this is not always viable. Manmade or natural disasters can alter the tax base and, under some circumstances, undermine the confidence level of a community in its emergency response force. Even elected officials can adjust positions based on these perceptions.
Rarely is there an ideal time to subsidize new endeavors. Yet it makes sense to have a periodic review of goals and objectives by the entire staff. Ushering in a new year is the perfect time to seek the internal consensus for innovative initiatives. Building trust with fire department personnel and community leaders is essential. Winning the support of public officials is necessary to secure the required resources for critical prevention, response, and recovery ventures. Now is the time to refocus on the Department’s mission and ensure that all daily activities are producing worthwhile outputs. Preparedness will save dollars and lives. This year, get a quick start on meaningful strategic planning.
William Shouldis is a deputy chief with the Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department, where he has served for 32 years. He is an adjunct instructor for the National Fire Academy’s resident and field programs, teaching courses in fireground operations, health and safety, and prevention. Shouldis has a bachelor’s degree in fire science administration and a master’s degree in public safety. He is a member of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board, and a frequent FDIC speaker.