Trending Topics

SIM cards and fire department policies

Without good policies to provide guidance, your department will never be fully effective as an organization

Sponsored by
Inserting A Sim Card In A Mobile Phone

Photo/Getty Images

Several months ago, I wrote an article called, “One Degree Off Course – Policies and Course Correction,” in which I discussed how minute changes in direction can have a huge impact in where you end up in the long run. I wanted to share another story related to fire department policies because I believe there are some similar takeaways from the situation. I hope you will see them as I did.

This isn’t necessarily a new idea. In his book, “Atomic Habits,” author James Clear says, “The impact created by a change in your habits is similar to the effect of shifting the route of an airplane by just a few degrees. Imagine you are flying from Los Angeles to New York City. If a pilot leaving from LAX adjusts the heading just 3.5 degrees south, you will land in Washington, D.C., instead of New York. Such a small change is barely noticeable at takeoff—the nose of the airplane moves just a few feet—but when magnified across the entire United States, you end up hundreds of miles apart.”

Sometimes very small things can have large implications, both in our personal lives and in our agencies. Though it’s easy to overlook fire department policies, they have a huge impact on how our departments function.

The “perfect” department

Recently, I was asked by a fire chief in a medium-sized department to help review his department’s strategic plan. This chief had recently accepted this position, coming from another agency. He was very excited about this new opportunity.

The department had everything he wanted. Multiple stations, truck companies, advanced life support (ALS) units, an urban search and rescue (US&R) team, and a robust budget. The agency protected a diverse community from low income to high income, modest homes to high rises. The city had a wildland urban interface, plus freeways and a railroad running through it. The best part was a supportive city manager and city council. It was a fire chief’s dream department!

On paper, everything looked great — all the bells and whistles. We discussed a few possible changes and I recommended some additional tweaks. However, he told me his biggest concern was morale. Department morale was low from command staff to the rank and file. We discussed several possible causes which turned out not to be the case. I met with their department union representative, who indicated low morale has been an issue for many years.

I mentioned to the chief that he might consider bringing in a psychologist I recommended, an expert in team-building psychologist. He was reluctant to do so. Being a new chief, he was concerned it was a premature move that might undermine his authority at the given time. If things didn’t improve, though, he would consider it in the future.

Meeting with leadership

Two days later, I met with his command staff. Though everyone was pleasant and friendly, I certainly felt a disconnect — a bit of tension in the room. We discussed many things while considering possible solutions. Finally, I asked for a copy of the fire department policies and procedures so I could review them.

In an instant, the room went silent. Everyone turned and looked at one another; no one said a word for what seemed like minutes. (It was actually about 5 seconds.) Finally, a battalion chief jokingly said, “We haven’t seen those in a long time…”

Sadly, this revelation came as no surprise. I have been with Lexipol for almost 12 years and pretty much knew this would likely be the root problem or cause of origin.

If you think again about that plane flying from Los Angeles to New York City, one of the most important things the pilot has to rely on is a flight plan. Without a clear, coherent flight plan, there’s no telling where a flight will end up. Similarly, without department policies and procedures, an agency is essentially rudderless, able to be blown off course by the slightest crosswind.

Technology and the spirit

Fast forward to March 31, Easter Sunday. As usual, I attended Easter service. During the service, the pastor began by talking about cell phones and the many great things they can do for us. From email to web browsers, flashlights to cameras, most people simply couldn’t function without them.

Things got just a little strange when the pastor began preaching about SIM cards. SIM cards are tiny plastic cards about the size of a thumbnail used in cell phones, smart watches, computers and cameras. “SIM” stands for “subscriber identity module,” which describes the tiny, printed circuit found on a SIM card. This memory chip holds information crucial to the operation of your mobile device. If you’ve got a modern smartphone, it undoubtedly has a SIM card to connect to the mobile network and provide service.

Naturally, the pastor steered his message around to the impact of Jesus in our lives. He explained how our lives would be without Jesus. Like a cell phone without a SIM card, the pastor said, we can’t really live to our full potential without Jesus providing the connection.

Seemingly minor, easy-to-overlook things

Now obviously, I’m not necessarily saying my fire chief friend needs the power of Jesus to fix what was wrong with his agency. Rather, what that Easter sermon helped me realize is the profound impact seemingly minor, easy-to-overlook things (like SIM cards, flight plans and agency policies) can have in individual lives as well as public safety organizations.

Without a SIM card, your cell phone won’t work to its full potential. Without a flight plan, your New York-bound plane could end up in Washington, D.C. Similarly, without good fire department policies, your personnel can’t work to their full potential. We can have the best facilities and equipment — and all that goes with a well-equipped agency — but without good policies to provide guidance, we will never be fully effective as an organization.

Even if they are not responsible for specifically crafting policy, fire service leaders serve an important role in this process. They can identify the need for policies in the first place, and they can put in motion the process of identifying the areas where they’re needed most. It’s important for public safety agencies to use effective policy planning and implementation to provide the best possible service to the public.

The final outcome

After meeting with my friend’s staff, I raised the issue of policies with him. Realizing the need for a sound policy package, he began considering his options: Developing them in house versus using an outside resource.

In the end, his agency adopted Lexipol’s policies and management system. They have implemented and are training on them. It has made an incredible difference to the agency’s service, both internally and externally.

Sam DiGiovanna is a 35-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as fire chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, California. DiGiovanna also serves as executive vice president of fire operations for Cordico, which provides access to critical mental health information and resources to help those on the front lines best take care of themselves and ensure they are best prepared to serve others. Cordico was acquired by Lexipol in 2020.