By William F. Jenaway, Ph.D., CFPS, CFO, CTO
Conflicts can frequently arise between fire and emergency medical services agencies and local municipalities, but elected officials and fire/EMS leaders must learn to work together in order to find the most cost-effective, beneficial deliveries of public safety services in their respective areas. For both chiefs and elected officials, public safety should remain the #1 priority.
ESOs and municipal leaders must communicate clearly to develop joint goals for their communities that are mutually agreed upon, and to work together more successfully. This advanced communication effort can be effectively established by a working group of citizens, elected official(s) and fire/EMS officers. Together, these individuals can create a clear set of expectations, goals and objectives designed to meet community needs. Five steps can be taken to establish these new baselines:
- Organize the proper group of people to discuss and lay groundwork for partnership/joint expectations. This is essentially the first action in the development of a strategic plan. This will set actions into motion to achieve goals over a period of time to change the current system.
- Establish needs and limitations that the group can follow to work most effectively. These become the ground rules that elected officials and fire/EMS providers operate within to achieve their goals.
- Communicate through honest discussions about people and their capabilities. Does your organization have as many trained volunteers as it did in the past? Can more than one engine be staffed at a time? Answering these questions openly will help to better determine your needs.
- Develop a budget that is matched to revenue streams or value propositions versus actual costs. Plan ahead while evaluating your budget and make adjustments as necessary.
- Define clear expectations, as they may not match your current reality. Keep in mind the many outside factors that can affect your abilities, such as expansion, reduction, mergers, consolidations, tax increases, fees, billing, standard procedures, best practices, system changes, etc.
INVOLVING THE COMMUNITY
Throughout the planning process, joint focus should remain on keeping public safety as the #1 concern. Together, completing these 5 steps with the common goal of safety in mind will help you to establish a strategic plan for your community’s fire and EMS delivery.
In the next generation of fire and EMS operations, it may be necessary to promote goals to the community as well as to elected officials. Think about creating messaging that addresses the community directly - to first communicate the necessary changes and to facilitate the community’s support of those changes and your new approach.
Where do we go from here? Every day our community changes, and with every change, the fire service must be ready to meet any situation to mitigate hazards, save lives, protect property and educate the citizens and political leaders regarding the problems we face. Fire and EMS worlds have evolved. Change is real, and it is upon us. New expectations are driving us. Create your own destiny by fostering increased teamwork and communication, or it will be created for you.