Fire chiefs only need to look at their personal lives to understand the value of communication and healthy disagreement. I’ve noticed that the more effective I am as a communicator at home with my spouse and kids, the less friction I have within my family.
Similarly, when conflict does occur, which is inevitable in any relationship whether personal or professional, it helps to be able to sort through the issues in a manner that’s calm and focused on successful resolution, not simply winning the debate at hand.
The ability to communicate openly and argue fairly is difficult to teach and even more problematic to practice. Whether you realize it or not, the fire service is set up for significant barriers to communication and labor-management productivity.
All of our departments have multiple shifts, with leadership typically working a normal workweek, thus disconnecting us from many of our employees and supervisors.
Further complicating things is the fact that we’re geographically diverse. In some larger organizations, it isn’t uncommon for fire chiefs to go years without visiting some outlying station, thus making us rely heavily on midlevel supervision to carry our messages and share the concerns of the membership.
Recognizing these barriers should help us understand that successful labor-management relationships are something we must not undervalue in the fire service. Too many departments spend an inordinate amount of time in conflict rather than in collaboration and reconciliation.
Successful relationships are built on trust, mutual understanding and a resolve to find commonality to serve the common good.
A mentor of mine used to remind me that teamwork is always harder than individual decision-making, but the dividends paid to successful teams make the effort worthwhile.
In our case, the beneficiaries of collaboration and working together are the community members we protect, so we must remain forever committed to fostering a positive relationship with the people we lead and serve.
Fire Chief Thomas C. Jenkins V
President and Chairman of the Board