We're all familiar with the economic situation and the need to be more efficient, business-oriented and innovative. So why do we continue to struggle with changing how we operate?
As a fire chief, we must challenge our bosses with innovative ideas. We must mitigate the threats of change and demonstrate the benefits of innovation to our members. We must educate the public.
To be successful, we must understand our department's core mission and the community's needs and expectations. We must understand that changing how we achieve the mission doesn't change the mission.
Fire departments must consider new delivery models that focus on the core mission, yet meet service demands. We must consider opportunities that technology and innovative solutions offer to help establish these models. Openly discuss the cost advantages and disadvantages of new models and make sure responders, elected officials and the public understand what they get in return.
The community pays for emergency responses, but few understand what that means. We must educate the public and elected officials on how the budget for emergency response reflects the community's expectations. They need to know the process and how it affects our ability to achieve the mission.
Yes, we can improve response times if the community is willing to spend more money, but communities don't want to pay more and they still demand adequate response.
Talk to your stakeholders and determine how prepared they are for change. Speak openly with department members and offer them opportunities to constructively express their concerns and contribute ideas for new ways to achieve the mission.
Talk to the community about the services provided and your capabilities and limitation in delivering them. When presenting different options to the community, use data, science and real-life examples to justify precisely what you can and can't do.
Be transparent with your budgets and financial reports. Highlight how the overhead costs outpace revenue increases. Speak frankly about why these costs are needed and how they contribute to achieving the mission.
If the fire chief doesn't change with the times, the name on the chief's office will change and eventually so will the department—maybe not for the better. Leading change isn't easy, but the mission can help us get there.
Chief Hank Clemmensen
President and Chairman of the Board