There are a number of issues which must be considered in any situation where a merger or consolidation is being considered. In many cases a small group within one of the constituent organizations is driving the train toward what they perceive to be an inevitable outcome. Leaders and people like these generally do not care what others may think. It has been my experience that these people see themselves as being smarter and more astute than their fellow travelers. People like this cause far more problems than they solve. Again it has been my experience that people like this take the beating of dead horses to the level of an art form. You need to guard against people like this trying to ram through a merger or a consolidation in the face of wide scale opposition. Ling (2001) stresses that, "… (U)tilizing an open means of communication will be one of the most efficient ways to do this" (p. 7).
In considering the potential for success with regard to fire service mergers and consolidations, it is my opinion that it is critical for leaders and the people the lead to make sure that the following questions are properly addressed and the answers fully studied:
- Is a merger really needed?
- Who is making the decision?
- Do the members of the constituent groups see the need to merge?
- Are there any long-term biases or animosities which must be considered?
There is a process involved and it is important to be as inclusive as possible when deciding which members of the affected organizations need to take part in the process. It is within the confines of this process that the answers to the above questions can be fully explored and properly answered. An initial meeting of all interested parties should be held in a venue sufficiently large to accommodate all who might wish to attend. Weidner (2010) suggests that the following be developed:
- A study task force with members from all affected groups, as well as the public who will end up paying the taxes for the product which will be produced
- Involvement with the local dispatch operations
- Subcommittees to study such items as demographics, finance, and a set of proposed by-laws for the new organization you are seeking to develop
- A public information point of contact
- A rumor control person
It is important to insure that all parties to the process, internal and external, are kept informed of the ongoing status of the process. Weidner (2010) further stressed that, "…a breakdown in communications between the task force membership and fire department personnel will not only stymie the process but also degrade its credibility" (p. 37). He suggested that these various task forces and subcommittees will need to meet frequently to perform their assigned tasks. The communications pipeline must be kept open at all times. Any missing bit of information will almost certainly be replaced by a rumor and rumors can be quite destructive indeed.
Let me stress at this point that in order to achieve success with mergers and consolidations in the public sector fire service, it is necessary to understand the benefits that come to firefighters and other who actively plan for the future success of their organizations. Change is inevitable and resistance to change is a given. Ling (2001) suggests that a number of considerations which you must understand before beginning the merger/consolidation process. They are:
- Basic resistance to change
- Autonomy and identification issues
- Inter-jurisdictional and political considerations,
- Personnel issues (p. 9).
Each of the above issues must be a part of the deliberations which are undertaken to study any possible merger or consolidation scenarios. Like a friend of many said some time ago, "…I do not mind progress as long as nothing changes". This sort of attitude is far more common than any one person would like to admit. Do not be shocked by such a response.