20 Tough Questions For the Fire Chief

The poor economy has had a considerable impact on municipal budgets and, subsequently, on fire department budgets. Elected officials are feeling the pressure to reduce operating expense and they are looking at all options for balancing budgets. This...


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Business models

Some fire department leaders have been administrating their departments for many years using a business model that captures, evaluates and applies metrics in their budget-justification process. Those who have been progressive visionaries will find few surprises among the questions the ICMA is suggesting elected and appointed municipal leaders ask their fire chiefs. For these departments, the questions are not only easy to answer, but the principles behind the questions have been driving the department’s direction long before the economy downturned.

Some fire department managers, on the other hand, have not been as astute to the metrics used to drive decisions. Those who have been less progressive may find themselves underprepared for the tough questions they are likely to be asked. The blind-trust and open-checkbook days have come to a close, at least for now, and are likely to remain closed for the balance of most currently sitting fire chiefs’ tenure.

It is important to understand both the questions and the metrics that support quality answers. Unfortunately, the data that supports responses to some of the questions require the accumulation of longitudinal data (statistical performance data gathered over years). An astute official, rightfully so, is likely to question the characterization of short-term data (gathered over months or a few years) as not being indicative of trends.

When facing tough questions, it is always better to anticipate them to have well-prepared responses. Through their seminars, website and magazine, ICMA consultants are coaching administrators on the tough questions to ask. Consider this Firehouse® series to be your coaching on the answers to the tough questions. Whether the tough questions will be coming from town administrators, elected officials or citizens, it is important for fire department leaders to be ready for the questions with well-prepared responses. The ICMA is coaching its members on the questions to ask, speckled with some opinionated foregone conclusions on the answers.

Each segment of this series will address the questions and provide answers based on best practices. These are tough times and some fire service leaders are navigating uncharted waters. This series will provide coaching to help you survive and thrive. n