In the past, I have joked about professional emergency services, saying that “we have no competition so there is no need to make a profit, so you can do whatever you want.” The true professional emergency services department is keenly aware that citizens and elected officials are only too happy to replace the fire chief if the organization is not performing to its or the community’s satisfaction.
Therefore, the astute fire chief is continually measuring the performance of the emergency services organization and all of the internal workings that permit it to function. However, there is such a variety of ways to measure the system. Which way is best?
Creating Achievable Goals and Strategic Work Plans
One of the best ways for you as a new chief to begin is to look to the future and create achievable goals and develop strategic work plans. The one thing to know is that when you arrive, the previous goal has likely changed and you will need to update the path going forward.
The key to creating achievable goals and strategic work plans is to understand that you require various people’s involvement. This means you need a citizen, a business owner, an elected official, different ranks within the municipal organization and a member of your labor union to create a new plan. Without the diversity to create, you are likely missing a necessary and vital perspective.
Once this document is drafted, you must involve all of your internal personnel to critique it and make suggestions for further improvement. Many times, we can glean lots of information when ideas are aired within the emergency services organization.
But we must be sure that just because someone has not seen an idea or goal beforehand does not mean that it cannot be accomplished. Active executives must ensure that the message is “This is the plan, but it needs more input,” rather than “We were thinking this might work. What do you think?”
Such a query opens the door to ambiguity. Firefighters are mostly Type A personalities who want to know where they are going and what time do they get there.
Once an annual strategic plan is created, work plans will need to be developed each year. This is where we bring out the talent in our organization by letting everyone know what we need to do and how we can make it happen. Also, we allow ownership for the various projects that will help move the organization forward.
By virtue of being doers first, firefighters’ work plan is their area of strength. That is not to say that some firefighters are not more visionary or strategic than others, but most are very task-oriented.
While we need to plan the future, we also need to determine how the emergency services organization is operating at any given time. We need to ensure that performance conforms to the expectations of the organization’s leadership and those of the community.
Performance metrics can be established for many areas of an emergency services organization. The first and most obvious area is response times for incidents. Parameters can include out-the-door times or travel times to calls. The former is controlled internally by the organization, and the latter is a product of station locations and street grids.
Turnout times are also affected by the station’s design. Decisions about station layout can drastically affect turnout times.
Personnel travel in the station and activities related to the travel should also be analyzed. For example, sleeping and fitness activities may require additional time to change clothes, so these activities should be located near the fire apparatus.
Other areas to examine can involve the percent of inspections completed and training hours completed per Insurance Services Office (ISO) requirements. All of these aspects have an impact on the community from arriving in a timely manner with competent personnel to possible savings in municipal insurance premiums.
The Center for Public Safety Excellence’s Accreditation Program is the ultimate assessor of fire services in the United States. Each department puts together documentation on all areas related to fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). This comprehensive examination seeks to match community hazards with the needed programs, response force, and station locations to ensure a department is continuing to improve and perform as the community requires.
While this strategy is the best way to measure success, the manpower needed to accomplish the first round of accreditation can be overwhelming. The positive news is that this accreditation process can take up to three years. But accreditation can be accomplished with the proper delegation of authority.
Knowing where you are going and measuring whether you are on the right track is part of any successful emergency services organization. You must create the needed data to ensure that the community is happy with your organization now and in the future as well as to justify areas of improvement, most of which will cost money.