Often we think of the fire department as a standalone entity with a single goal, albeit with a wide mission scope. The vast majority of our efforts are focused on meeting the response needs across diverse communities. Between fire and EMS response and planning, we have enough on our plate to keep our resources stretched across a broad spectrum.
In reality, fire department leaders often view relationships with elected officials and others in the community as a necessary part of the job, giving them the same reactive approach used for day-to-day operations. We communicate when necessary to answer questions or further our quest for gaining resources, but often refrain from stepping as part of the larger community-leadership process.
When relationships with elected officials and community leaders are strained, we frequently miss opportunities to engage in discussions to benefit both our organization and our communities. A focus that’s concentrated solely on organizational strength and growth limits our ability to build those external relationships that create social equity and to mobilize resources for creating and sustaining healthy communities.
As fire service leaders, understanding our place in community leadership brings great possibilities for both personal and professional growth while lifting up and supporting those around us.
Being community leaders helps us look at economic, environmental and social issues plaguing the areas we live, work and play in. As communities become more racially and ethnically diverse, we often see fragmentation that leads to differences in beliefs, culture, philosophies and economic status. This presents opportunities for us to become engaged in political and social networks that bridge different individuals and groups, allowing us to tap into resources bringing energy and focus to addressing community problems.
As public servants, understanding our responsibility to the overall health of our community brings new meaning to our traditional mission and vision for the fire service. Helping our communities to grow and solve problems by building diverse groups and coalitions strengthens our position as community leaders. When this happens, we become a far more important resource to both our organizations and our communities.
To accomplish this, fire service leaders must experience and educate themselves on a variety of topics that may at first seem foreign to our old-school thought. Knowing the problems our communities face in respect to infrastructure, social issues and the economic climate helps us frame ideas and problems for others to grasp. Understanding our communities’ focus and direction is paramount to becoming key members of the team poised to lead into the future.
So when we’re approached by elected officials and community leaders to provide insight into economic development or redevelopment, healthcare or even social issues within the schools, we can bring the knowledge, information, tools and people that can find and implement sustainable solutions.
Community leadership is focused on developing healthy relationships with others who are focused on building social equity and mobilizing resources. These relationships are based on trust, integrity and reciprocity, which help bond us in spite of our differences. Embracing the diversity of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion and thought help to reap the benefits of a vast array of knowledge and experiences.
Through these networks, we work and grow together to address our communities’ specific problems. Positive dialogue and conflict management strengthen the overall bonds tying these networks together while we move to understand others’ positions that may differ from our own. Developing these skills and passion will help us drive community leadership and position our organizations to be part of the coalition that creates, builds and fosters healthy communities.