AMU Emergency Management Opinion Original Public Safety

People Make the Organization

In a recent interview, the candidate was excited about working for our organization as opposed to his current organization due to the money differences in the communities. While I could not argue that my organization is part of a community that has great financial resources, I explained that it is the people that define an organization, not the money. This blog, we will examine what qualities make excellent people for the fire and emergency services

Aligned Values

This is likely the biggest quality of personnel that you should look for when hiring and promoting. If your organization seeks to provide a high level of customer service and this is not one of the values the candidate sees as important, you will likely not have great success, regardless of their skill level. While almost everyone that interviews for a public safety position will tell you they enjoy the service part or giving back to the community, their actions and attitude that they demonstrate each day may tell you that they care about the public service, but do not prioritize this part of the job. Some believe the emergency services are a monopoly and that people should be happy to see us regardless. While from a true business sense, the emergency services in most communities are a monopoly, however, there is a political/voting aspect that allows the public to change out the leadership of the monopoly very easily. I have also noted that despite who in the organization has a value misalignment, the top executive is the person the community replaces.

Engaged Employees

The biggest factor of anyone’s success is engagement. Some people tend to engage more at various aspects of life. Does the prospective employee talk more about their accomplishments in the profession or more about where they are headed on vacation? While we all need work/life balance, but if your focus in on your days off and not on what you contribute to the organization, one could devise that your engagement is not the organization. If you only show up every third day and provide the minimum, please find another organization to “hang out” at, as we need personnel that want to gain training levels, want to contribute to policies, want to maintain the equipment and facilities that make the service delivery possible.

Team-Oriented Personnel

With the advent of smartphone and video games, social isolation is becoming an issue that emergency services, particularly the fire department will need to determine and find ways to combat the social isolation. While not all crews will be the best of friends, the premise of a fire company is teamwork. Crew resource management was popular in the 1990’s and is making a comeback, as the crews must know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and make use of the personnel to solve whatever problem they are dispatched to fix. Finding and knowing the strengths and weaknesses can only occur if the crew spends time together and are social beings. Sitting in their bunkroom on a smartphone or TV will not allow this. Conversations and impromptu trainings at the kitchen table are what build this capability.

Buy-in to the Organization

Some employees are proud to tell people what department they work for and others would complain no matter the organization. Your best recruiting tools are the employees that work in your organization. Short of being an organization that has strict civil service hiring, it is likely that prospective employees are friends and acquaintances of your current employees or at least they will reach out to your current employees to see if they want to work for the organization. If your current employees are on social media sharing their satisfaction with the job, you are much more likely to attract other high-quality employees. Everyone goes through phases based on what has happened to them in the organization (passed over for promotion, mandated overtime on Christmas), but in general people have the same attitude and connection to the organization throughout their careers.

No amount of money can buy a fire station or fire truck that will solve the community’s emergency without quality firefighters on that fire truck to perform the work. The work performed is commensurate with the dedication, training, and teamwork of the firefighters on the fire truck. Hire great people and you will have a great organization.

Dr. Randall Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. From a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.

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