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Fire & Life Safety: Managing Relationships Inside and Out

Our society is more connected today than it has ever been, with the use of email, social media and text messages. This use of communication is a great source for sharing information with the masses and keeping staff and citizens in the loop. But it isn't always the communication that's needed to influence change. Even though we can be so connected, we can seem so distant at times.

Building relationships can take time; some seem to fall in place very quickly while others take years. Internally in an organization, the fire chief and officers play a key role in development of firefighters who don't always trust the brass for various reasons (typically assumptions).

When staff members are asked what they struggle with, the responses initially are very short and easy. My staff members are still trying to figure out if I, as a newer fire chief, have their interests in mind; to pacify the fire chief, they give such simple answers as managing email.

Through everyday interactions and one-on-one meetings, we're able to communicate face to face, which builds our relationship within the organization. Unlike written correspondence, we can view each other's facial expressions, tone of voice and other nonspoken communication. One on one, we can even prevent either of us from grandstanding, which hopefully leads to sincere communications. As communication is built, we get honest answers to our questions about their struggles, and then we can truly begin to work on employee development.

This style is played out countless times outside our organizations. Our inspectors communicate daily via email with businesses and customers of our organization. A key component of a progressive fire service is their ability to influence changes in behaviors in our business communities. If we want an organization that allows the public, contractors or businesses to ask us questions, they can't fear the hammer every time they ask. We all have seen the inspector who won't provide feedback to the general contractor and influences change through red or green stickers; this is a volume inspector who has to get to the next inspection.

Inspectors who build up relationships with contractors that allow for a partnership in the built environment lead to very successful projects. There is give and take to accomplish a building that meets the building and fire code. This starts with face-to-face communications that lay out expectations. The inspector can work to educate and provide timely feedback during the project. This doesn't imply everyone gets a green approved sticker every time.

Many fire chiefs wonder what their inspectors are struggling with or even what they do each day. Take time this week to build internal and external relationships and eat lunch with one of your inspectors or fire marshal. If you're the inspector and have a weak relationship with your supervisor, why not start with working on open, face-to-face communication? Work on building that relationship that will greatly affect your organization inside and out.

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