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Building a Better Future – It Takes Collaboration!

During these trying and turbulent times, it is vital that as fire chiefs, we dedicate a sufficient amount of time to look forward and build a path to a better future. Make no mistake about it; I do not mean we can look past the current health, economic, and social crises. We can recognize that going back to "the way things were" would be going back to a broken past and should not be on our map.

It is time that we imagine a better future and get to work on building it. When we come out on the other side of the unprecedented challenges we as leaders are facing, will your communities see a better version of service delivery? Will your employees see a better version of the work environment? I sure hope so. It is going to take deliberate action on our part to define a path to a better future.

I offer you that the path to the future cannot be built in our offices, departments, and maybe not even in our cities. The path will be built through effective collaboration, reaching across the community to find partnerships with others dedicated to preserving life quality for the citizens. Reaching across the community to find partnerships with others who need technology solutions to improve information and intelligence gathering and analysis. These actions will facilitate making resource allocation decisions that will move your organization further forward than you could ever go alone.

Chiefs, this is a call to action. Zoom out of the crises of today and look out to the horizon.

  • How does a better future look?
  • What systems have been disrupted during the pandemic that allow us to reinvent parts of our model?
  • What investments have you been making in risk reduction for your community?

The current health crisis punctuated the role that telemedicine is playing in our healthcare system.

  • Is your community prepared to support such a technology solution in the future?
  • Do you have flexibility in your system to embrace telemedicine's new acceptance in your model with or without insurance reimbursement?
  • Does your 911 communications center have the capacity to support your vision for the future, and if not, what plans can you put in place today to change that answer to ‘yes’?

The key takeaway here is that you cannot solve these challenges, nor build a better future in a silo; it will take partnerships and collaboration to achieve success.

Building these partnerships takes time, energy, and strategic thinking. Thinking about the future, further out than next week, next month, next year. What does the future of your fire department look like in the next five or ten years? Walk that vision backward and develop a strategy to move in that direction. All of your visits to community events and foundation meetings have not just been for the community to meet their fire chief; they serve as the foundation of the "who's who" of community leaders searching for a partnership such as yours.

It is not a foreign concept that the time to build a relationship is not during a disaster. However, there is no wrong time to build a relationship. If you have identified the need to meet new folks, then I recommend you offer an invitation for a quick meet and greet (virtually, of course). You want to meet both the movers and shakers in your community as well as the people in the trenches. My advice is not to ask for anything out of the gate but rather offer up some way to help solve a challenge that a person may be facing. Along the line, you may identify a mutual interest that is worth investing in together.

Now is the time to forge forward and build a better future. Now is the time to gather the brilliant minds in your organization and community to develop the strategic foresight necessary to ensure your department's efficacy and sustainability. Remember, as you go through this exercise, inventing ideas for the future is not committing to those ideas. The right path is not always the best, and the best path may not be achievable. The right path should be chosen deliberately from many options, meaning that you will invent a handful of unchosen paths as well. The key is to invent options, invest time and energy into strategic thinking, and ensure your team knows you are looking (far) beyond today's challenges.

As fire chiefs, it is our responsibility to find the path to deliver a better future. If it does not exist, then obviously, we must create it. After all, as firefighters, we have been trained to create the necessary access or egress to ensure a successful mission. The same objective applies to our role as a key executive for the organization; the mission is just a little different. Be sure to prioritize time in your day and week to think strategically, look for partnerships where you have not looked before, invest in what makes the organization more effective in serving your mission.

The future is brighter than the past. If, and only if, we invest in building it that way!


Bob Horton , MPA, CFO, CPM is the Fire Chief for Fire District 3 in Jackson County, Oregon. Bob is a Board Director for the Western Fire Chiefs Association and the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association. He serves on the IAFC’s Communications Committee and is a 2019 graduate of the IAFC’s FSEDI program. Bob is the host of the podcast, Assuming Command, featuring thought leaders and innovators in public service. His research interests include behavioral economics, collaborative networks, and public policy.

Connect with Bob on LinkedIn



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