This is a very volatile time in the fire service and not an easy time to be a fire chief. We're seeing increasing public scrutiny, active shooter incidents, LODDs, regulatory burdens and tax caps, as well as increasing operating costs with decreasing budgets.
It's difficult to keep up with this type of rapid change, and the people we serve and the firefighters (volunteers or career) who work for us generally resist change, especially when it comes at such a rapid pace. As fire chiefs, we all know how hard it is to change; we should also know we have to change just to keep pace with our industry standards and regulations.
But given the state of the fire service today and the foreseeable future, the question becomes why change is so hard and what we can do make it easier. How can we navigate these rapid currents of change?
The difficulty with change involves how our brains are programmed. It's a well-known fact that we have two controlling factors within our brain: the rational side and the emotional side, both competing with the other. The rational part of our brain wants a healthy body and the emotional mind wants that peanut-butter cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at the fire department, but the emotional mind is comfortable with existing policy.
This tension between our rational and emotional minds can cause any change effort to fail. So how do we reconcile the differences? Because until we do, change won't come easily.
The book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath describes some interesting techniques for changing things when change is hard. The authors write about a rider, an elephant and a path. If all three are aligned toward a change, it will most likely succeed; if they're not, change will be very difficult or totally unsuccessful.
The rider is the intellectual portion, or rational solution to get from point A to point B. The elephant is bulky, unruly and emotional. The rider has to figure out how to motivate and direct the elephant down a possibly winding, confusing path full of roadblocks. The book gives many examples of how to maneuver all three of these to facilitate change.
To facilitate change in the fire service, we need to find ways to direct that rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path.
For something to change, someone has to start acting differently. If more fire chiefs start acting differently, we may find that change isn't as daunting and overwhelming as it might seem.
So get out there and start acting differently—in a positive way, of course—and celebrate your successes when you make those positive changes.
Chief Hank Clemmensen
President and Chairman of the Board