Fire companies are your major assets—capitalize on them!
Neither outstanding work of individual firemen nor over-all accomplishments of an entire fire department should mar a fire chiefs view of the importance of the trained, intact company as the major unit of operation
When you explain the fire service to the public, keep your story simple. Unless you reduce it to a few key ideas, your audience may miss your points. Bruce Holmgren thinks “the concept of the company” is your one best point to make. He urges you to stress the importance of keeping a company together as an intact, operating unit. Doing this, he says, helps you to: (1) Interpret your work to the public and (2) ward off the unwise attempts of others to break up your companies or whittle down company strength. You do all this by showing the key role of the company in the department and by pointing up the importance of having enough intact companies to meet the peak loads which measure your department’s performance.
Although the author is directing his discussion chiefly to paid departments, his observations apply in large measure to volunteers. He believes it is just as important for volunteer companies to keep together as units as it is for paid departments to keep their companies intact. He thinks volunteer departments should have their men report at stations and that apparatus should not leave quarters without adequate manpower. He concedes that unusual problems of geography or fire hazards may dictate a department doing otherwise, but as a nde, volunteers should go to their stations instead of going directly to the fire. This way, according to Mr. Holmgren, the volunteer departments send intact teams to fires, instead of simply letting the firemen show up individually. Headers wishing to contact Mr. Holmgren, may write him at 515 Meadow Hoad, Wlnnetka, III.
NO MATTER how well your fire department actually does its job you still have to sell its performance to your community. Municipal administrators, elective officials and the general public do not appreciate your real value until you demonstrate it to them.
Neither sound public relations techniques, nor mere press agentry, can spread a veneer of apparent effectiveness over an inadequate fire department. Further, it takes effective selling to build the support necessary to carry out the improvement of any department. But what do you do when you have a good department but lack the citizen understanding and appreciation you need in winning support for your efforts to build a better department?
The trouble with so much fire department salesmanship is that it concentrates on selling the department as a whole. It tries to demonstrate department effectiveness in terms of what individual members do. Instead, it should stress company performance.
Selling a fire department (or anything else, for that matter) usually means selling certain simple ideas. Unfortunately, the complexity of today’s fire protection problems and the intricacies surrounding good department performance make it hard to reduce the whole business to simple terms.
Stress company’s importance
At this point the company as a unit looms up as a major basis for your effort. You can use the concept of the company in driving home two key points:
- The company, kept together intact as a ready and constantly performing unit, is the basic tool of the fire department.
- Successful handling of peak loads depends on having enough kept-together companies ready to operate as units.
About the Author
Knock out misconceptions
Similarly, when you stress the value of the company you knock out the props that support three major misconceptions, or erroneous impressions, that uninformed people (in and out of public office) hold about the fire department:
- Emphasizing the company shows up the utter impracticability of illadvised efforts to combine fire and police departments. Integration rests on scattering the men hither and yon, letting them roam the streets in cruiser cars or station wagons instead of keeping them together as teams. If your public appreciates the value of the company as a team, it will not succumb to the siren song of administrators clacking about “manpower utilization.” No really informed public would let any one break up a company or impair its usefulness.
- Stressing teamwork and coordination, the concept of the trained company avoids any image of incompetent, blundering firemen unable to work together. In selling the company concept you replace such an image with one of smoothly functioning, well-trained team units. When you do this, you don’t have to worry about any impressions of undisciplined firemen or officers shouting back and forth at the fire scene.
- Proper emphasis on the value of the company and on having enough well-manned companies prevents your citizenry from being lulled into security by the apparently effective handling of many small fires. When you stress the company and the need for enough companies, you help people get an accurate impression of your department’s ability to meet peak loads.
All this assumes your companies are busy, handling the full range of fire department duties: In-station maintenance and housekeeping; training; fire prevention inspections; pre-fire planning; rescue and emergency work, and actual fire duty. Keeping a company together does not mean letting the men sit around for alarms.
No solo performers
It is time we stop focusing undue attention on the fireman as an individual. Rather, we should recognize that he develops his ability through team participation instead of solo endeavor. The public is prone to think in terms of individual firemen. This is our fault.
For example, we send a fireman to some school assembly during Fire Prevention Week. Thus the children see usually one man—at most, two or three. The firemen explain the use of tools and equipment which they handle as individuals.
Likewise, even though entire companies make fire prevention inspections, our business men and individual householders frequently see only one or two-man teams rather than companies.
Finally, when an officer or chief addresses some civic group as an individual, he personifies the department. The boy who watched one fireman demonstrate an extinguisher at a school assembly is now the young executive who listens to that same fireman, now a commanding officer, at a luncheon club.
Meanwhile, our young man’s wife lets a two-man inspection team see the basement of their home. Thus, both husband and wife are in contact with individual fire department members and neither one thinks of the fire company.
There are four reasons why the company deserves major emphasis when you are selling the department:
- Successful functioning depends on keeping the company together; you cannot operate without a trained company unit.
- In paid fire departments the company is the major unit of career development.
- The company, not the individual or the department, is the keystone of fire department public relations; you must interpret to your community the importance of an adequate company.
- Since meeting peak loads of major fires depends on having enough trained companies, you must make people understand this.
Keep company intact
Properly doing the principal tasks of firemen demands having enough men on a company shift and keeping them together as a unit:
- In-station maintenance and housekeeping. Doing this quickly and without diverting men from other activities means having enough men at hand so the individual company members can do this as a team.
- Training. No matter how simple or advanced your training effort may be, it rests on having a team of individuals geared to work together as a unit—and whose individual members grow and develop as a unit.
- Fire prevention inspections. Except in situations demanding full-time “bureau” men, the basic tool of industrial, commercial, institutional and residential fire prevention work is the company sent out as a unit.
- Pre-fire planning. Both the field work and the minutiae of recording it all on paper demand adequately manned companies to get the job done.
- Rescue and emergency work. With a trained, adequately manned company you finish these assignments more ably and quickly than otherwise.
- Actual fire duty. From the most trivial grass fire to the largest involvement, there is no substitute for an adequately manned, ready company, ^ou should drive this point home to the public.
Why poor performance?
In contrast, when you do not have enough manpower on companies, or when you are forced to scatter them about town as members of some sort of “station wagon set,” you cannot get your six jobs done properly.
- Housekeeping and maintenance takes too long when just one or two men are doing it all. What should be a routine chore for a trained company becomes a lingering project.
- You simply cannot train properly unless you have enough men on a company shift. This is true whether you do the training right on your station grounds or at a central facility.
- Inadequately manned companies mean that your fire prevention inspection work falls off. Officers find themselves detailing individuals to inspections instead of sending out whole companies.
- Skeletal companies, or those with members scattered about town for other “duties,” miss the point of pre-fire planning. Without intact companies you simply do not do a good job of on-location study and in-station sketching and recording.
- You lose a lot of time in non-fire calls (rescue and emergency work) and perhaps do not handle the calls successfully when you lack adequate company strength.
- Finally, if your company strength is scattered or depleted, you do not do well at the task of getting into action at a fire. Your engine work bogs down, your laddering operations take longer—and some jobs may not get done at all. If you are to make the most of your first five minutes at the fire, you need all your company members on hand together—and not arriving separately over a period of time.
Continued on page 650
Key Points to Remember About a Company
- You must keep your company together, intact as a unit.
- You cannot operate without a trained, unit company.
- The company is the base unit of career development.
- It is primary tool of public relations.
- You must sell your community the importance of an adequate intact company.
- The company is the unit with which you meet all your departmental responsibilities.
Continued from page 611
Basic career unit
In spite of the complexity or glamor of equipment in the fire department, its manpower is still the basic element. Most of the fire department budget is for salaries. Manpower development is a primary responsibility of any chief or officer. However, in recognizing the importance of manpower, we must think of companies rather than individuals or departments.
Firemen acquire their basic skills in company teams and not as individual firemen. They develop their knack of advanced operations just the same way, with the company functioning as a unit.
Further, the company is the point of development for first-line supervisors. A company officer develops his ability through handling his team as a unit rather than in supervising widely scattered individual firemen working alone. The chief officer must bring to his command job a background as a successful company officer.
Focal point for “P.R.”
In asserting that a company can make or break a department’s public relations program, we mean that a gixid or poor job in any of the major departmental functions rests on how well the company does as a team. An engine company doing a fast, coordinated job of laying lines wins respect for the competence of the department. A ladder company does the same thing in performing ventilation effectively.
A department without well-trained companies does not win plaudits for laying lines when the firemen, who theoretically make up the company, do not work together often enough to learn their jobs. Similarly a poorly trained ladder company earns no praise when there is excessive property damage during forcible entry or ventilation.
When tlie heads of the fire department interpret its work to the community, they must demonstrate department accomplishment in terms of company performance. Further, they must prove the value of adequately manned companies by showing the public just what happens when you do not have such companies.
Final arbiter: Peak loads
Small fires well handled are not the real measure of a department’s performance. Those who would impair company strength or scatter it (as with the so-called integration schemes) do not realize that the bulk of any city’s typical losses comes from a small number of large fires.
No one department can maintain enough strength to handle these major fires. The way it uses its own and outside companies is the measure of success or failure in this area. Coordinating the joint efforts of many companies is merely an extension of the proper use of individual companies.
In summary, the individual company trained and functioning as a unit is the final arbiter of department accomplishment. If you want just one basic idea to put across when selling your department, this is it.