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President's Letter: The Crystal Ball

In my office is a gift I received several years ago at a department director's Christmas party. The gifts were passed around in some sort of game that I've long since forgotten, but when the time was up—or you were eliminated—the gift you had in front of you was yours to take home.

I ended up with the one I was hoping for, a Magic 8 Ball.

I've had more fun with that 8 Ball then you can shake a stick at, if that's your idea of fun. I'd be in my office and someone would bring me their problem and try to put that steaming mess in my pocket. so when they wanted my solution or answer to their problem, I'd turn around, reach into my drawer, pull out the Magic 8 Ball, give it a shake and give them an answer: "Try again later." "Not likely." Or some other great bit of wisdom.

They would then say, "You’re not going to solve this for me, are you?" See, I knew they were smart!

I'm certainly willing to help them if they really need it and not just avoiding using their judgment and authority given to them by the rank they hold. If the decision is mine, then of course I'll take my responsibility and consult the 8 Ball—I mean make a decision.

What I'd really like is a crystal ball so I could see the future. We have a great rearview mirror in the fire and emergency service for what we've always done, and we're also pretty good at what we're doing right now. But like any organization, we struggle on what we’re going to do in the future.

This has been compounded by the struggling economy and by how rapidly things are changing in the world. I used to try to have a one-, five- and ten-year plan. Now I find they are out of date by the time we get there. What seems to be more normal now is a three-, six- and twelve-month plan.

The rapidly changing environment of financial volatility, technological advances and the explosion of information available to everyone makes it more challenging for most leaders to plan their organizations’ direction. But while more challenging, it also increases the importance of making correct choices. A small miscalculation can become a disaster for the organization and can affect the careers of those that made the decision.

That being said, today’s leaders can’t hesitate to make decisions, knowing they’ll make mistakes, but also knowing that making rapid adjustments to new information will help them and their organizations survive these challenging times.

Come on, Magic 8 Ball!

Chief Al H. Gillespie, EFO, CFO, MIFireE
President and Chairman of the Board

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