Options for Handling Fiscal Squeeze—And Stress—Aired at Conference
Options for means of coping with the fiscal squeeze affecting the fire service—as well as all other municipal departments—were discussed at a conference conducted hy the United States Fire Administration at Fort Worth, May 24-26.
It was essentially a management conference that drew chiefs from both large and small fire departments along with city government administrators. Computers received a large amount of attention as speakers discussed management team-building, productivity, greater reliance on the private sector and stress.
A different view of the stress problem was presented by Dr. James Schamadan, director, Corporate Health Services, Phoenix. The physician said stress is built into the human body because the “human body is designed for just three things—fight, work and reproduce” and stress is required for all three. Stress, Schamadan explained, is a patterned physiological response.
He charged that burnout was coined by paramedics. People heard about burnout and now we have it, he declared.
“I think what we do many times is to make ourselves a disease and many people get on the bandwagon” Schamadan stated.
He pointed out that there was no mental disease in the Japanese prison camps in World War II because the Japanese didn’t recognize its existence.
The physician pointed out that stress symptoms—excessive use of alcohol, inability to sleep, high blood pressure, anxiety, etc.—all are symptoms of diseases and the possibility of disease should be evaluated.
What is the best way to overcome stress? “I would use exercise,” Schamadan advised. “Exercise is still the best way to handle stress.” He explained that only physical action can burn up the adrenaline released by stress.
He said the key to stress management is to figure out some way to get psychological relaxation. He also recommended “pre-living”—thinking of what will happen before it happens—as a way to cope with stress.
A fire service that will be different was depicted by Robert Herchert, Fort Worth city manager. He said that Fort Worth contracted with a private provider to collect garbage in part of the city and he predicted, “I’m convinced in the next 20 years, you people in this room will be competing with private fire service providers.”
He also saw the growth of aid to municipalities through the private sector and volunteers. He declared that this assistance will be necessary if local government is going to survive. In Fort Worth, police reserves, who are volunteers, give 8 to 10 hours a week to the city and he commented, “I think the same thing can happen in the fire service and I think it will happen.”
He predicted more volunteer programs in even the large cities. Herchert also foresaw more built-in fire protection to limit the problems faced by fire departments.
Lieutenant Alton Bostick of the Fort Worth Fire Department, speaking as a union representative, predicted that manning is probably going to he the key issue of the future. Stating that how this problem is handled will influence the future of the fire service, he asked, “At what level (of manning) do we become ineffective?”
He stressed the need for chiefs to concentrate on their prime objectives and he observed, “In the fire service, productivity is how well we meet our prime objectives.” Bostick categorized doing non-fire service work as nonproductive.
The Fort Worth lieutenant said that most fire departments do a good job training first grade fire fighters, but there is a need to do more for the higher ranks.
“If you’re not training and developing people to be supervisors, you’re going to get the kind of supervisors you deserve,” he warned.
In a discussion of management team-building, James Ladd of Ladd & Associates, Raleigh, N.C., warned that you may find that your goals are not the same as those of your staff people. However, you find out where they have been heading all along, he commented, and suggested that there be compromise on team goals. He defined teambuilding as the promoter of motivation that gets things done because the members want to do them.
Ladd explained that first you must have a skeleton on which to build and only the top man can design the skeleton. He stated that the chief must understand where he is and where his organization should go. Involving others—as in team-building—puts flesh on the skeleton, he added.
Demanded by fiscal crisis
Coleman Conrad, San Diego deputy city manager, declared that the “importance of developing a management team is directly proportional to the fiscal crisis.” His city is involved in organizational development that is producing measurable results. He credited the program for a 45 percent reduction of vehicle down-time in the city vehicle maintenance division.
Conrad praised San Diego’s change from autocratic to participatory management. He said it works because those responsible for implementing decisions are also responsible for participating in those decisions. Therefore, they carry out the spirit of the decisions.
How an organizational development program was started in the San Diego Fire Department was described by Chief Earle Roberts, who said it was imperative to have outside assistance in conducting a team-building workshop.
The chief said that the risk of making a survey and forming problem-solving groups among employees is high because it then is necessary to show some results. Another employee survey is scheduled after a year of using organizational development.
Roberts said that his department also used the management by objectives technique. Division heads are responsible for writing objectives. The chief commented, “If we are going to improve, we’re going to do it through our employees.”
How team-building helped integrating and cross-training fire and rescue personnel in Greenville, N.C., was described by Jerry Cox, that city’s personnel manager. The fire/rescue chief and three assistant chiefs formed the senior staff. Cox said that the results included better understanding of each chief officer’s role, better communications and an improved means of planning and problem-solving.
Cox reported that the action plan included 22 problems and detailed the solutions, who was responsible for taking action, when the action was to start and the completion date. The team eliminated 10 of the 22 problems as either solved or reduced to minimum levels.
Computers and software
In a discussion of the use of computers—particularly microcomputers in the fire service, Mike Fay of the National Fire Academy stressed that, the software (packaged programs) is more important than the make of computer selected. He urged those contemplating the acquisition of a computer to spend a lot of time looking over the available software and selecting the programs that best fit the needs of your fire department.
After you have decided what software you want, Fay advised, then it is time to determine which computers can run the software you have selected. Budgeting and handling fire department report forms, he pointed out, are two areas in which computers are helpful in the fire service.
In Wichita, Chief James Sparr said, the 19 manual steps formerly needed to assign personnel had been reduced to three with a computer. He advised identifying all the steps in paper flow and comparing it with a computerized system before making a decision on acquiring a computer system.