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February 7, 2004

By Chief Ronald Richards

Don't you just hate people who say, "but what if....?" Most of the time they say that because someone has presented an idea and they try to show the pitfalls. Sometimes that is good. If you rush to change something without having explored all the pros and cons, they results can be devastating.

Those same people who will proverbially try to "pea in your corn flakes" are usually the same folks who never take the time to look at the big issues that can have far-reaching impacts on your organization.

There are many issues that can effect an organization. For those that are highly probable, we try to think things through in advance, hence, general orders or standard operating procedure are developed and issued.

Most organizations get tied up with minutia. Countless man hours are spent on projects that have little tangible value. Many times, because of poor leadership and overall lack of a plan beyond the next month, the organization merely operates a like nomad wandering in the desert.

Let's play a little devils advocate here. Do you think your organization can handle most stuff thrown it's way? Your probably thinking to yourself..... "sure, we're the fire department. We handle emergencies all time."

How would your organization handle any of these situations, which can and have happened elsewhere?

What if....

  • you have a line of duty death? Will you be able to produce training records for the firefighter who was killed? How about the inspection and maintenance records on the breathing apparatus or other equipment that involved? Who presented the training? What are the trainers qualifications? Can you produce standard operating procedures. Do you have a personnel accountability policy? Does it work or is it on paper only? Do you have a rapid intervention team assigned on all first alarms?
  • you have an apparatus accident? Can you produce emergency vehicle operator training records? How about apparatus maintenance and inspection records? Who service and maintains its? How experienced was the driver? How many calls have he responded to in the past two years? What is his driving record? Will be be able to pass the blood alcohol test? Was he drinking? Let's see your policy on substance abuse? Does your department have alcohol in station?
  • you have a fatal fire and the fire department is faulted? Will you be able to produce training records supporting the competencies of your officers? Do you have box assignments that are realistic, providing the proper staffing and types of apparatus? Do you use the incident management system? Will you be able to produce a tactical worksheet that will show documentation as to how you managed the fire?
  • you have a member of your organization alleging sexual misconduct at the fire station? Do you have a harassment/workplace voilence policy? Have your members been training in reporting harassment? What role do your officers play when it is reported? Would you try to "keep it in house"?  What will you do when the media start to call? Do you have fire department spokesman?
  • you cannot provide adequate staffing? Have you considered adding additional companies to your alarm assignments to insure adequate staffing? Is there someone responsible for recruitment or do you wait for people to come and beg to volunteer at your station? Is staffing a symptom of a bigger organizational problem? How well do you treat you most valuable resource, the personnel? Does your organization have a polished image and stand tall or does it attract the losers of society?
  • your organization faces financial problems?  Does your organization have a budget? Do you live by the budget with officers providing input for equipment, apparatus and physical plant needs or do you buy on a whim? Does you money man have higher than an 8th grade education?  Can he balance a check book?  Can he develop a budget? Do you have a funding shortfall because of frivolous spending or poor investing? Are you getting good returns on your investments or do you keep your money in the local  bank because they sponsor the raffle tickets and give you 2.5% interest? Have you considered other types of creative funding? Does your EMS and rescue bill? Do you have a contract with your municipality or do you provide services for free because they pay for your workers' compensation and buy fuel for the apparatus (and they also buy raffle tickets...?)  Do you have too much stuff? Have you considered down sizing? Do you really need three pumpers and two tankers and only get one piece out of the door? How about the efficiency of your station? Do you have lots of money going out the door heating a building that is not energy efficient? Can you do with "used" instead of "new"?
I could go on and on here. If the "Doubting Thomas's" of your organization want to constantly bring up the negative, then put them on a mission. Have them look at your organization and ask the same questions as I just did. More importantly, when a question is raised have them come up with a solution. A good leader is willing to be asked a question, but good leaders who have developed good subordinates expect then to come to you with a solution!
About the author: Chief Ronald Richards has over 28 years of fire service experience, both career and volunteer. He rose through the ranks in the Forest City Fire Department, in Forest City, PA and became Fire Chief in 1995 holding that position through 2000 when he retired. He currently serves as the Chief for Training and Safety for Browndale Fire Company in Wayne County, PA. Chief Richards has over 24 years of service with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, having served as a Fire Marshal with the Department of Public Welfare, a Fire and Safety Specialist with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Currently, he is Superintendent Assistant  within the PA Department of Corrections, responsible for media relations, litigation coordination, accreditation, and the writing of policies and procedures. Chief Richards graduated from the State University of New York with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Service Administration.  Richards is a PA State Fire Instructor and an instructor with Command School.  He is the founder of WithThecommand.com. 
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