Rx For Your FD

Rx For Your FD

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MANAGEMENT

Is your fire department weak and run-down? Does it suffer from tired organizational blood? Is your department often unable to face the rigors of another day of operation? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then read on, for there is hope. We have an Rx for your FD.

It is a human trait that we make things more difficult than they actually are. As the cliche says, we often “do not see the forest for the trees.” In this article we will look directly at the trees that make up your fire department. We will see how you can cure that disease known as “tired organization.”

Before we go any further, let me ask you a simple question: What is a fire department? If your answer is in terms of hose, fires, ladders, and fire prevention, then you miss my point. At its most basic level, a fire department is an organization; it is a group of people banded together for a common purpose.

Many of today’s fire service leaders do not understand that their departments are dynamic, forceful, and ever-changing entities. They fail to recognize the opportunities they have to shape and mold their organizations to meet the needs of the world around them. Because they do not modify their fire departments, they become drawn along by change, much as a fallen leaf is drawn along by the breeze of a passing truck.

Just look at how the fire service handles many of its current problems. Did anyone anticipate minority hiring? And how about hazardous materials or arson incidents? Everyone waited until a few brave souls blazed the path to deal with these problems. You must realize that you can shape your future and improve your department’s performance simply by adjusting the building blocks in your organization.

To better understand the concepts in this article, I will discuss the three parts of an orgnization. They are:

  • Structure,
  • Processes,
  • Behavior.

Each plays a role in the production of any organization’s final product, be it soap powder or fire protection.

Structure

Organizational structure refers to the relatively fixed relationships that result from job definition, departmentalization, span of control, and delegation of authority. We form these relationships to allow group strength to take the place of individual effort. The sum of the work of many is usually greater than the work of many individuals acting independently.

However, once we form these group relationships we make the serious mistake of casting them into concrete. A forward-thinking leader should not be afraid to experiment with the ways in which his organization functions.

Look at your structure, examine how the work is organized, and see if there is any hidden talent in your fire department—perhaps on the lower end of the totem pole. Try to be flexible when dealing with your organizational structure. It is an inflexible attitude that often condemns us to repeat past mistakes and avoid making progress towards the future.

Processes

The processes in any organization refers to those technical and administrative activities that take “inputs” and make them “outputs.” Thus, we can think of an organization as a large, humanized machine where inputs go into one end and emerge from the other end as a finished product.

Communications and decision making are crucial to the success of any organization. If these two processes are diminished in any way, all other aspects of management fail. An example of this is the following: “You said to get to it as soon as I could…How was I to know that you meant right now?”

In order to better understand the importance of effective communications within an organization, look at the model on page 57. As you can see, it is a seven-part system that is easily reversible to form a two-way flow of information.

If any part of this sytem breaks down, the thought of the communicator will not arrive correctly in the mind of the receiver. My greatest problems within the fire service have been the result of a breakdown in communications; either in sending or receiving.

The basis for effective decision making depends on the quality of an organization’s communications network. The inability to communicate leads directly to improper and inappropriate decisions. The quality of an officer’s decisions depends on the effectiveness of the communications process within the fire department. Try to think of the decision making and communications processes as variables that are well within your ability to modify and control.

Behavior

This last part of the organizational list holds the greatest potential for improving our organization’s structure and making the processes more effective. We must try to be as aware as possible of our members’ behavior and its effects on our organization. How people behave has a direct impact on everything that an organization does.

Behavior is an extremely complex area because it deals almost exclusively with the human mind and its impressions of the world around it. A person thinks, acts, and reacts based on a series of complex and inter-related experiences that are specific to him.

No two people grew up with exactly the same parents, surroundings, etc. The fire chief and his subordinates must remember this if they are to supervise, lead, and administer in a way that will maximize organizational output and minimize individual inconvenience. In other words, we must consider the feelings of our people.

Why is behavior such a critical factor to an organization’s success? Because a person’s performance is directly related to how he feels about the organization. He will behave as he thinks the organization expects him to, and he will react to the manner in which he is treated. If a firefighter feels that his ideas count and that management cares, he will work to fulfill the expectations of his superiors.

The opposite is also true. If the people at the top do not care, you can be sure that this feeling will filter down to the people on the bottom of the pyramid. But if you are aware of this, you can work to make things right; you can make people feel wanted and appreciated.

Summary

The ideas in this article are not unique. However, they are a bit different from the norm in most fire departments. Unfortunately, we have allowed ourselves to become prisoners of the past; we are reluctant to keep in step with the times and accept new technical advances and social conditions. This has occurred because we do not understand the dynamics of our own organization and therefore ignore the potential that exists to make improvements from within.

You can use the concepts in this article to help cure the ills that have sapped the essential strengths from our organizations. It is this weakness that makes us unable to shake off the diseases of the past and adapt for the future.

Recognize that your fire department is made up of a number of dynamic and changeable parts. Analyze your operation to see where it needs to be modified. But be forewarned. You must have the courage to admit failure and the strength to persevere in the face of criticism. You will need these things as you drag your fire department, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century.

The time for cop-outs is past. If you fail to embrace the latest in managerial style and approach, you might just find yourself out of a job and replaced by a private, profit-minded, contract fire department.

You still have time to take the Rx to your FD…but do not delay.

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