These two departments are attempting to involve greater numbers of their members in the management process. Early results show increased efficiency and morale. Is this the model of the future?

The inclusion of all levels of an organization as part of the decision-making process has not, in general, been a part of most organizations’ management style. The concept of management by a few has held true for both the public and private sectors in the United States.

When industry faced sagging productivity levels in this country and realized that perhaps a change in management techniques might be an answer, the concept of quality circles took hold. Municipalities are now beginning to realize they have some of the same problems as industry and are turning to the industrial community for an answer. And the answer they get is: recognize the attributes of your people and get them involved in the decision-making process through a structured program.

There seems to be a reluctance on the part of fire service managers to allow part of the organization’s decision-making process to filter down to the lower ranks. The complaining (better known as bitching) that one constantly hears in the fire service is: “We are part of the organization. Why don’t you make us feel like we are part of it. We are talented people. We have ideas for resolving some of the organization’s problems. Won’t you just listen?” This involvement can come about through a structured program such as quality circles.

A quality circle is a group of people who voluntarily meet together on a regular basis to identify, analyze and formulate solutions to problems in their work area. The group usually consists of 5 to 12 employees, including a steering committee, a facilitator, leaders and trained circle members.

The steering committee is the circle’s “guiding light.” The committee establishes city policy in relation to quality circles, keeps records and information on how the circles are progressing and passes on this information to department heads, and sets off-limit areas of circle discussions.

The facilitator is a key person to the success of a quality circle. He is responsible for promoting quality circles throughout all levels of the organization, training and assisting leaders, coordinating circle activities with other groups and individuals. maintaining accurate records, solving problems and removing barriers to the circle’s functioning, reporting to the steering committee, and assisting in developing others’ interpersonal skills.

The circle’s leaders should have already demonstrated leadership skills. The leaders are responsible for recruiting and training members, conducting meetings, getting the group to share responsibility for tasks and maintenance as well as sharing credit, coordinating with other groups and with staff, keeping management informed, maintaining (minimal) records, and helping members develop.

On an average, the solutions posed by circle members have been accepted by Charlottesville management 80 percent of the time. The main reason for this large percentage of acceptance is that the quality circle members dealing with the problems and solutions are the people closest to the problems.

A quality circle can be at any level within the organization as long as the membership can identify with the problems at hand.

If a quality circles program is to succeed, it must have the commitment and support of management so that a suitable atmosphere exists under which the circle can operate effectively. Support must come from all levels of the organization starting at the top and can come about in several forms:

  1. A personnel policy such as Charlottesville adopted, which establishes quality circles as a governing body of the city.
  2. Overtime pay for members who meet on their time off (Charlottesville pays straight time).

Recently, the former fire chief retired and the Longmont Fire Protection District (LFFPD) hired me as fire chief to manage the resources in a participative approach to management. The expectation was that a participative approach to fire service management would substantially increase efficiency and morale within one year. It was also believed that employees and volunteers will more enthusiastically endorse programs and policies when they have been allowed to provide input.

At this point an important distinction must be made. Although this approach is employee/volunteer oriented, it is not management by committee. The final authority and responsibility rests with the fire chief. The ultimate accountability is the fire chief.

Two organizational structures were designed to provide the framework for overall management of the fire district. The operational management framework depicts the process for developing operational procedures relating to incident response. The administrative management framework provides the means for delegating and developing nonoperational aspects of the fire service, such as fire prevention and training. Both fit together around the fire chief. He serves as the focal point.

The operational management framework depicts a system where the line fire fighter has direct input to the development of operational policies of the fire department. This is especially important in combination departments where traditional rivalry exists between volunteers and career personnel

Each of the fire stations meet individually to discuss proposals to improve its local operation and the total operation. Ideas developed in this fashion are then presented at officers’ meetings with the fire chief. Here the procedures are refined and established.

A ground rule established in one of the first meetings was that all conflict on proposed rules would take place in the officers’ meetings. Once a policy was set, all station chiefs would support the decision regardless of their personal feelings. Then the officers take the adopted policies back to their stations, and personnel are briefed on the finalized policies.

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Participative Management: Charlottesville, Va.

  1. Department and city recognition of members.
  2. Guidance via a steering committee.
  3. The realization of a win-win relationship.
  4. Freedom of the membership to select and solve the problems they identify without interference or pressure.

A quality circle program is not a cure-all for an organization’s problems. If fact, it may initially create problems. For example, the selection of a facilitator and leader, who should already be in a supervisory capacity, may cause a conflict among other supervisory personnel. There will be peer pressure applied to the circle’s membership from all levels. Those not chosen might have a feeling of being left out or not belonging. There may be problems with membership attendance, such as tardiness, members quitting, or management becoming impatient about a long time frame before the circle’s first presentation. None of these problems is insurmountable; it just takes perseverance on the part of the facilitator and leader. Once again, strong leadership attributes are essential.

There are seven tools used in the quality circle program which are broken down as follows:

  1. Problem solving and preventionused to approach problems as opportunities and as an overview of specific tools to be used.
  2. Brainstorming — tailored specifically to quality circles, gains the maximum number and quality of ideas from the group Brainstorming also is useful in identifying problems, determining ways to verify causes, and selecting solutions. You will find this tool most helpful in other aspects of your particular job. As an example: during an officers’ meeting, after a specific problem has been identified, we brainstorm for a solution.
  3. Data: sampling and display —data must be reviewed in order to analyze and/or prevent problems.
  4. Pareto: decision analysis-a graphic illustration used to determine if a particular cause accounts for a disproportionate share of effects so that limited resources can be directed where they will have the most impact.
  5. 5. Cause-and-effect problem analysis – used to enable the circle to identify, analyze and prioritize the potential cause or causes of a problem quickly.
  6. 6. Verification and solution — once a cause is identified, it must be verified. The cost to implement the solution and the savings realized are determined.
  7. 7. Management presentation – used to show management the analysis of a problem and to make recommendations for solutions The presentation is also a way to relay information to provide recognition.

Expected Benefits To Management From a Quality Circle

  1. The development of workers’ skills and knowledge.
  2. Improved worker creativity.
  3. Greater job involvement of workers.
  4. Increased safety awareness of workers.
  5. Increased leadership development of workers.
  6. Improved communications.
  7. A more harmonious work force (everyone can have input through the circle membership).
  8. A boost in morale.
  9. Greater commitment and contribution to the organization.
  10. Increased problem prevention attitudes.

Charlottesville Fire Department Quality Circle TAPS (Trouble and Problems Solvers)

A look at our first brainstorming session reveals what circle members consider to be problems in their work area.

In this first exercise, the six circle members were allowed five minutes to write down as many problems as they could. These problems were then listed on a flip chart and explained in detail so that each member understood exactly what the problem entailed. Once all items were explained, each member was asked to vote, starting with item no. 1.

In the first vote process each member can vote for one or all of the items. Out of the first vote, items with four or more votes were voted on again, but this time each member could vote only once. Again, five minutes were allowed for the membership to decide which of the items was most important. On the second vote, a physical fitness program came up as the no. 1 vote getter.

At the next meeting, the circle brainstormed details to consider in initiating a mandatory physical fitness program. Again, the membership was given five minutes to list their ideas. In this five-minute time frame, the circle members were able to generate 55 different areas of concern, from cooperation and cost, to exercise programs and first aid.

Quality circles are designed to assist the management of an organization, not replace it, and the areas of wages, benefits, grievances, personalities and policies should be off limits to the circle.

What inevitably happens during one of Charlotteville’s brainstorm sessions is that items will be brought up which fall into the area of department policy. When this happens, all policy-related items are pulled from the list and submitted to the chief of the department for review. In most cases, the chief has addressed each item and as a result the department has benefited in one form or another.

It is important that the rest of the department be kept informed as to what the circle is doing and where the circle is in relation to the progress of projects. This is accomplished on a quality circle bulletin board and by discussions during regularly scheduled shift meetings. Charlottesville also issues a newsletter on the operation of its quality circles.

Charlottesville was the first city in Virginia, and one of the few cities in the country, to initiate a quality circles program. A recent survey by the University of Virginia’s Commerce School indicates a very positive feeling about the program among the city’s quality circle membership.

In developing a quality circles program, these steps should be followed:


  • Conduct research.
  • Develop management support.
  • Assess feasibility.
  • Make decision to start.
  • Organize steering committee.
  • Develop implementation plan.

Conduct orientation for middle management and union.

  • Select facilitator.
  • Collect base-line measurement.
  • Select pilot program circle leaders.


Consultant trains facilitator and leaders.


  • Communicate to employees.
  • Recruit members.
  • Begin circles/train members.


  • Hold management presentations.
  • Publicize progress.
  • Evaluate circle progress.
  • Make decisions on expansion.

I strongly recommend against thinking of quality circles as a do-it-yourself project. This only will invite problems that you do not need or want. The best approach is to get the help of a professional in the field.

(Continued from page 45)

Even if a fire fighter doesn’t like a specific procedure, he is aware of how it was made and the discussion involved. Sometimes he may discover that what sounded like an excellent idea, from his perspective as a fire fighter from one station, would have had a detrimental effect on the other three stations. This can be an effective method of educating career and volunteer fire fighters to each other’s needs.

We have used this process to identify first-alarm assignments for the individual response areas of each station. Each station has separate needs based on its individual resources. Each has a different variety of fire apparatus available, levels of staffing and water supply availability. For example, a fire fighter from the Mead Station may suggest to his station chief that a Mead tanker be dispatched on all firstalarm structural assignments in the Brownsville Station area because it has very few hydrants. When the officers present this idea at the officers’ meeting with the chief, an alternative proposal may be implemented. A Brownsville fire fighter may have suggested to his station chief to’have a closer neighboring fire department dispatch its tanker on automatic mutual aid for a first-alarm structural assignment in the Brownsville Station area. Only one suggestion would be adopted.

Then the station officers would all take the adopted procedure back to their personnel. The fire fighter whose suggestion was adopted would have feedback. The fire fighter whose suggestion was not adopted would also have feedback on why it was not adopted. I consider both sets of feedback as positive reinforcement to the personnel in the organization. Fire fighters will continue to be motivated to think of ways to improve the fire department operation when they know their input is sincerely evaluated by top management.

In the past, the individual stations had independently handled much of the routine administrative tasks of the fire district. This practice overburdened many of the volunteers. The administrative management framework was designed to alleviate some of this nonoperational workload carried by the volunteers by shifting it to the career employees. The prime responsibility of the volunteers became that of responding to calls for assistance and training to meet those emergencies. Accountability for administrative activities was transferred to the six career personnel. Volunteer assistance is still encouraged but not required.

Under the administrative framework, individuals employed by the fire district assume a dual role. Not only do they function as operational personnel at incidents, but they also devote time to those administrative tasks necessary to support an acceptable level of operational response. Each employee is delegated a defined subsystem, such as fire prevention or preventive maintenance. He develops his area of responsibility under personal guidance from the chief. All employees frequently meet with the district fire chief as a group to evaluate progress on individual projects and integrate their separate subsystem into the total organization. Again, we have a systems approach to organizational development.

This concept was initiated during one of the first employee staff meetings. I asked each employee to describe his career goals and special interests. Then we collectively assembled a list of nonoperational functions we needed to address to efficiently manage our fire department. Among the topics were: fire investigation, fire prevention, public fire safety education, fire training, EMS training, specialized training, inspections, plan review, pre-incident planning and preventive maintenance. Each employee was asked to think about which areas he would like to be involved with before the next staff meeting.

The Longmont Fire Protection District is a special tax district organized to provide fire and EMS services to its 11,000 residents. It comprises 180 square miles in parts of two counties in Colorado, adjacent to but not including the City of Longmont. Services are provided by four fire stations. Three are staffed entirely by volunteers, while the fourth is staffed by six paid career fire fighters (two per 24-hour shift). A paid fire chief commands the district.

In the past, the district had been managed in a traditional autocratic style. Each volunteer station responded to a third of the fire district. The paid (referred to here as career) station responded to every call in the fire district. As soon as a volunteer unit determined it could handle an incident, the career fire fighters and engine were cancelled and returned to quarters. This made them available to respond to another call.

At the next staff meeting, a couple more topics were presented. Then the various fire service functions were divided up among the career fire fighters at their discretion with some guidance from the fire chief. One employee had a background in fire prevention. He chose inspections and plan review. Another was a reserve deputy sheriff and enjoyed working on vehicles. He chose fire investigation and preventive maintenance. Once the subject areas were divided up, the assignment for the next staff meeting was given. Each person was to list projects and objectives in his assigned area that he would work on during the next year. Three to four hours would be allowed on each shift for the employee to develop his administrative tasks.

When we all met to formally define the subsystems, it was discovered some subjects were too comprehensive to accomplish in three to four hours, 10 days per month. A few subjects changed hands. It was decided all employees would be trained in fire investigation. After an initial investigation by the on-duty shift, the fire fighter assigned responsibility for fire investigation would coordinate all follow-up necessary. Fire inspections were also too comprehensive for one person. It was decided that the on-shift company would do initial inspections. The fire inspection designee would coordinate the entire program. All employees participate in the development of their job descriptions and expected accomplishments.

Once the theory and structure were organized, it was necessary to address the group and individual needs to ensure effectiveness of the delegated projects. Two additional work areas were established in the station. Each was provided with a desk, phone, adequate lighting and necessary resource material. A successful program of delegated assignments mandates an efficient work area.

When a shift comes on at 7 a m., members sign off that they have been briefed, check their equipment, and outline the needs and activities of the day. Twentyfour-hour shifts are now structured to provide three to four hours for administrative tasks, three hours for training and inspections, and two hours for emergency response between 8 a m. and 5 p.m. These, of course, are guidelines and are quite flexible. The emergency responses are the biggest variable. None of us has figured a way to schedule them yet.

Our switch to a participative approach I is several months old now. Several significant changes have occurred or are in process. Attitude was an important prerequisite. Participants were conditioned for a change in organizational direction. However, even when personnel are enthusiastic about helping change work conditions, stress must be expected and dealt with. It could destroy excellent attempts to improve an organization. I attempt to continually monitor the group stress level. Periodically I ask the fire fighters (individually and as groups) if we seem to be moving ahead at the proper speed. More often than not, we try to move too rapidly. At this point we back off and reach a plateau. I suspect our improvements will last much longer this way.

It is very important to ensure continuity of the subsystem function when the employee assigned is off duty. In our fire department, personnel frequently are off four days in a row. To meet this problem, employees going off duty brief their relief about any current activities or developments in their area of expertise. This may also be written in the “pass-on” log. This method of maintaining continuity of program has proven especially valuable in the area of personnel equipment.

Participative management should not be carried over to the fireground. This has been an apprehension of some. In crisis situations such as fires, fire fighters must have confidence in the leaders to promptly follow orders. I believe the participative approach to procedure and policy development will strengthen fireground control.

The manager using this approach must be flexible. Even with guidance, some subordinates will overestimate or underestimate their abilities. To keep an individual actively involved in making a better fire department, he must receive reinforcement and tackle realistic objectives.

Finally, the fire chief must be openminded. We have our own preconceived ideas and perceptions. If we are to effectively manage employees and solicit their input, then we must actively listen to their ideas. People are the most important resource we have.

Longmont employee staff meetings also focus on career goals and special interests.


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