To Merge or Not to Merge: That is the Question - Part 2

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...


It is important to stress that tools exist which can be used to assist leaders who are preparing for a merger/consolidation process. First get a firm handle on where the organization and its staff stand today, in terms of organizational membership, direction, and capabilities. Let me suggest that no organization can hope to make a journey into the future if it is unaware of where it is at the beginning of the process. That is like leaving on a long car trip without the benefit of at least a set map(s) or a modern, finely-tuned GPS unit. These will allow you to know where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there.

One of the best ways to accomplish this planning task is to use the strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analytical (SWOT) tool. This process will allow you to perform the necessary environmental scans to gauge your current operations, as assess your potential for growth and future success.

The use of the SWOT analysis procedure will allow for an organization which may be pondering a merger or consolidation effort to develop a thorough understanding of the depth and range of their existing organizations. In making the decision to consolidate or merge, organizations must, of necessity, develop a vision of what they want the new organization to look like, the goals they wish to pursue and the manner in which they hope to reach their future vision. Once again, you need to know what you are doing before you can decide on what you might like to do in the future.

The above-listed questions need to be asked of all individuals who may be impacted by any possible merger or consolidation of fire departments. Their response to these questions should be studied and their impacts weighed and evaluated. Decisions on the magnitude of such things as mergers and consolidation are of an order of importance so great that they should never be made lightly or in haste. They should never be made behind closed doors by a group of self-proclaimed insiders. The SWOT Analysis is an extremely effective tool in the toolbox of the thinking mergers and consolidations people. Every community will have its own reasons for considering a consolidation or merger. For that reason, if for no other, a full-scale analysis of the area involved should also be conducted.

The object of strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat (SWOT) analysis is to identify as much information as possible regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the organization as it interfaces with the community it serves. Aaker (2001) provides the following list of areas that should be studied in the outside environment: The key is the vision. Without a vision, there is no destination for an organization's journey. An important part of the planning process involves conducting an analysis of the external environment where an organization operates. A similar analysis must be made of the organization's internal environment. Aaker (2001) provides an excellent framework for conducting this sort of strategic analysis. In each case he suggests that analysts must look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that an organization faces.

The external analysis includes the following:

  1. A review of the community's needs, noting which are being met and which are not
  2. A review of the forces working against the fire department
  3. A municipal review that shows what a community demands of its fire department
  4. A review of the external problem areas for the fire department (e.g., technology, regulatory, cultural, demographic, and information needs)

The internal analysis includes the following:  

  1. A performance analysis of staff, apparatus, facilities, and finances
  2. A review of past successes and failures regarding an internal review of the impact of each of the problems (e.g., technology, regulatory, cultural, demographic, and information needs)

Let me suggest that the SWOT analysis should be performed by the members of the task force. These members should create meetings where members from all of the affected groups are brought in. Each organization must actively participate in the process.

Let me recap the steps which you should take if you are considering a merger or consolidation of two, or more, fire departments.