No judgments, just improvements

With the new year ahead, here is an example of how you can reflect upon your fire department and make improvements

At the end of each year, many people like to take an opportunity to be reflective and plan a "better" year for the New Year. What if we did the same for our fire department? What if we took a day, worked together as a group and honestly and openly discussed our department? What if we could look at our department objectively and, without judgments, make improvements? This article outlines a process for developing a better department for the New Year.

Step 1
Set up a full day "work session" to discuss the current state of the department and any possible improvements. Provide refreshments and tell everyone to come prepared with ways to improve. They can bring their gripes, but you need to set the tone that the goal is to improve, not beat dead horses. Also, you need to work on inviting as large a percentage of your membership as possible. Depending on your bylaws, you may have to advertise the meeting if business is going to be accomplished. Work on bringing in your less-active members also, as it may be an opportunity to get them recharged.

Step 2
Check all egos at the door. By far this is the hardest step. If the goal is improvement, then any idea has to be listened to. This also means that anything and everything should be on the table for improvement. No sacred cows, no "we only do it this way." This means that each member, from the probationary firefighter to the Chief needs to look objectively at the way things are done and forget that it may be someone else's idea.

Step 3
Set the goals for the department. This may seem obvious, but you may need to restate that the goal of your department is to help the public you serve. The reason you should restate this goal is that it will guide your entire process. Sometimes it can be easy for a department or its members to forget the reason why they exist and what the ultimate goal is. This is most obvious when departments spend months arguing about the beer fridge rather than how to gain more members or upgrade their equipment.

Step 4
Based upon the goals, identify your strengths and weaknesses in reaching your goals. Honesty is key here. Your biggest strength may be a member who has found a way around one of the rules or expectations. Your biggest weakness may actually be your organizational structure. Whatever your strengths and weaknesses are, you need to be honest about them, even if you do not believe you can change them. Just the process of identifying and raising awareness about your issues may help your department. When your list is complete, rank the strengths and weaknesses from biggest impact (on your goal) to least.

Step 5
Identify ways to change practices to either eliminate weaknesses or support your strengths. The goal is to brainstorm solutions. This is where you and your members get to be creative. At this point, any idea is ok. You should be able to get a good idea of potential solutions and the amount of work that might be needed. After brainstorming potential solutions, mark each of the strengths and weaknesses as either easy or hard to implement.

Step 6
With the rankings from steps 4 and 5, the next step is to identify which areas to work on first. Those areas with the biggest impact on your goal that are the easiest to implement should be the priority areas. It may be that some of your highest priority areas may need the most work and are worth it. Initially, it may be easier to get some "quick wins" with the easy stuff while you are making long-term changes.

Step 7
Implement and monitor the improvements. This will take more than one day, but the goal is to show the impact of your improvement process and make course corrections as needed. Do not give up too early on a change as it may take months or years to see an impact.
This process is time intensive, but will allow for great changes. If you keep your department's goal in mind you cannot go wrong. If you identify a problem that you cannot solve, check or with your neighboring departments for an answer. If you are still stumped, don't hesitate to email me at and I may feature your question and a potential solution in a future column.

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