For the first time ever, the National Society of Executive Fire Officers (NSEFO) collocated its Annual Leadership Conference with Fire-Rescue International. By all accounts, it was a huge success.
This year’s conference focused around questions city managers are currently asking their fire chiefs to answer in these tough economic times. These questions were brought to light in the ICMA article, “20 Tough Questions to Ask Your Fire Chief When You’re Cutting Budgets.”
The morning session of our conference was based on the article “Firefighting: It’s a Whole New Ballgame: Tips for Getting Your Department Ready for the ‘New Normal,’” by Richard Gasaway, retired fire chief and president of Gasaway Consulting Group LLC. This session, titled “The New Reality—Refusing to Change is No Longer an Option” was facilitated by Richard Gasaway and Jack Snook, president and chief operating officer of ESCi.
Some of the provocative and challenging questions discussed include:
- How does the public perceive the fire service today?
- What does the future of the fire service look like?
- How do we effectively compete for limited available dollars?
- How do we change our culture to better position ourselves for future challenges?
- How do we respond intelligently and persuasively to the difficult questions that are being asked?
- What part does data collection play in any current and future discussions about the service we provide?
- Does the fire service collect the right type of data to answer these questions and is it consistent throughout this country?
- How do we differentiate and put into practice the concept that public service can be managed using business models when the goals and outcomes, leveraged by public expectation, is entirely different?
The lively morning session served as a warm-up to the afternoon’s engaging panel discussion, which took the issues from the morning’s session to a whole new level. This panel format was moderated by retired fire chief and past NSEFO president Bill Bingham and included these panelists:
- Phil Stittleburg, fire chief of La Farge (Wis.) Fire Department and Attorney
- Kelvin Cochran, fire chief of Atlanta (Ga.) Fire Department
- Thomas J. Wieczorek, director of ICMA Center for Public Safety Management
- Kurt Bressner, former city manager for Boynton Beach (Fla.) and current commissioner for the Commission on Professional Credentialing at the Center for Public Safety Excellence
- Michael Shelnutt, vice president of government relations for McGurie Woods Consulting
This esteemed panel provided their insight and particular point of view on each of the top-20 questions; then they opened the floor for questions from the attendees. As you can imagine, the attendees joined in a very robust discussion and even challenged some of the points made by the panelists, which at times went against traditional thinking within the fire service.
Chief Norman Rynning, Sunrise (Fla.) Fire-Rescue Department, said, “Holding the NSEFO conference with FRI was a great idea and a natural fit, giving me the ability to attend my first ever NSEFO Conference. The panel discussion drew a considerable amount of audience participation making it a valuable learning experience.”
At the end of the day, all attendees came away with some great information to take back home and use when approached by their elected officials about the future of their fire department.
Due to the overwhelming success of this year’s conference, NSEFO will collocate our conference with FRI again next year in Denver. We hope you’ll all be able to join us for what is shaping up to be another great educational and networking experience.
Patrick T. Kelly, EFO, CFO, is NSEFO’s president.