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Managing Your Department through Transformation

The news from around the country continues to be pretty daunting. Difficult economic realities from the Great Recession continue to negatively impact the public sector. Communities across the United States, both large and small, continue to grapple with the new normal of less anticipated revenues; they continue to have to reconcile that with the necessary public expenses of running state and local government.

In many communities, this has forced spirited dialogue about the priorities of governmental spending, services and service levels that have historically been the status quo, but that are perhaps no longer sustainable with current and anticipated new-normal revenue expectations.

If you're reading this article, odds are you're trying to administer and navigate your department through this painful period of global history. The article offers you those keys that successful administrators focus on during such challenging transformation periods.

Lead Your Department in Communicating Value

First and foremost, you must guide your department in effectively communicating the message about the department's value to the whole community—to those taxpayers who fund your services.

The challenge here is to break through the chatter of our overly tuned-in, information-based society, where so many demands for our attention compete.

What most communities already realize is that fire and emergency medical services are there to protect the community, its possessions and its population. What many people need to realize is how dramatic that value is to the community, since our services typically touch only a fraction of the tax base who need our services during times of crisis.

Showcase Your Department's Successes for Community Members

Successful organizations put a face on their value, by sharing both the services they regular provide and the successful outcomes. Administrators must showcase their people and the value they provide daily to the local community.

This may translate into sharing stories that highlight a cardiac-arrest survivor being reunited with your rescue team or a family whose house fire was contained to the room of origin and how smoke detectors installed by your department helped to save them from devastation.

The ability to put a face and an actual story to your community services converts the discussion from an academic one to a tangible report.

Your department must be seen by your community's members—and not just when an emergency response is needed. Community open houses, public education and proactive community outreach demonstrate your department's value beyond demand-based responses.

Installing car seats and smoke detectors, conducting blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, fall-proofing homes and teaching CPR are all tangible services that help to negate the painful impressions from economic and quality-of-life realities that emergencies and disasters leave with their victims.

Have the Data You Need to Support Your Assessments

Has your department identified all aspects of the critical infrastructure you're charged with protecting and how economically vital it is to the overall financial viability of your community, the region and beyond? If you haven't formally undertaken that task, it's essential to do so.

You must determine the economic impact of potential degradation of the critical infrastructure that may be attributed to loss from any potential compromise in staffing levels and the ability to appropriately respond to protect the community from any eventuality, manufactured and natural.

All too often, disaster and calamity have had to strike a community before public outcry swelled to levels that either restored necessary resources or funded those that were needed but never embraced.

Be proactive about analyzing risk in your community, the potential economic impact of that risk and any resulting disruption to infrastructure and how that correlates to the investment of protecting it. This matrix of cost/benefit must be clearly determined and easily communicated, and then you as administrator, along with department staff, must work feverishly to educate your stakeholders, elected officials and taxpayers constantly, not just when budget development comes up.

Be Innovative in Your Search for Revenue

Administering in times of new normal requires a strategic focus on aggressive pursuit of new revenue streams. Successful administrators must learn the art of identifying potential revenue and how best to access it.

One example is how well your department is prepared to pursue federal grant assistance through the AFG and SAFER programs. Successful attainment of funding requires much due diligence, identification of best practices, demonstration of your need and skill in articulating it clearly enough that you receive funding priority.

In short, it requires an investment of strategic focus by you as an administrator and your resources as a department.

Maintain Your Focus on Your Staff's Wellbeing

Lastly, administering in times of new normal requires a renewed focus on your employees. Times have never been more stressful, with the status quo being challenged, staffing levels being attacked, demands increasing and your workforce being asked to continue to perform.

Ensuring that your personnel's health, wellness and safety are your paramount focus will ensure they remain motivated and successful responders, providing your community its protection in the manner it deserves!

Todd LeDuc, MS, CFO, CEM, MIFireE, is an assistant fire chief for Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff Fire Rescue. He’s also a director at large for the Safety, Health and Survival Section and a member of the IAFC On Scene editorial advisory board.

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