President`s Letter: Fire Service Culture—The Good and the Bad

At the IAFC strategic planning meeting in January 2013, a group was formed and tasked with identifying the most critical issues and challenges faced by today’s fire and EMS service. These issues were designated as the five wicked problems and consisted of cost efficiency, data, deployment/staffing, culture and political acumen.

Our Past President Chief Bill Metcalf and our CEO/Executive Director Mark Light have done a great job of communicating these issues and starting the conversation of addressing them among our membership. I intend to continue this discussion by addressing them individually.

The issue of culture was identified in terms of the fire service constantly and rapidly changing environment. This environment takes in many aspects to include demand for service, advances in technology, the work force, etc.

Therefore, with the changing fire service environment, many of us believe the fire service culture must also change. But let’s proceed with care at this point.

The most important aspect of the fire service culture—our values—should never change. The ideas of service, dedication and bravery are the very things that distinguish our industry among so many others and the reason we, to a large extent, are highly respected among those we serve.

For example, there has been a movement over the last several years to bring more of a business or corporate culture into the fire service. I would argue that we have more to offer the business and corporate world in terms of customer relations and service delivery. 

The aspect of fire service culture that needs change is, simply put, our resistance to change. Although we commonly discuss this part of our culture as a source of humor—“200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress”—it ceases to be funny in terms of diversity, sexual harassment, and research and technology that challenge some of our long-held beliefs and practices.

In this context, culture is not only its own issue; it is a major factor in all of our wicked problems.

As we address these issues and others, we must consider how our culture is either helping or hurting and not get in our own way moving forward.

G. Keith Bryant
President and Chairman of the Board

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