To Merge or Not to Merge: That is the Question - Part 1

Change has been the watchword for many fire department operations during the first decade of the 21st Century. A number of our accepted practices within the fire service have been revised and the manner in which services are delivered has witnessed a...


Change has been the watchword for many fire department operations during the first decade of the 21st Century. A number of our accepted practices within the fire service have been revised and the manner in which services are delivered has witnessed a number of changes. In a great many cases, the actual departments which we have come to know, love, and understand have needed to be changed to meet the societal and economic imperatives of our new public safety environment. Some changes have been non-confrontational, and easily accepted, while others have been really ugly, drawn-out battles.

Let me suggest that the impetus for operational changes comes from the fact that our national economy has gone into a deep recession. It has been my experience of the course of my career that when the economy slows down, people begin to look for ways to save money. Government also begins to pay closer attention to the way money is being spent. When the citizens of a community express a desire to see cuts in the local budget, the government entities must work harder to spend the money of the people wisely. If they don't do this, people will express their displeasure at the ballot box. In this way, pressure is placed upon government to husband their scarce tax resources. Let me suggest that to some extent, this is what is happening all across America.

In New Jersey, things are no different. At the current time, for example, the state government has become a strong proponent of such concepts as shared services and municipal consolidations. Laws have been passed and funding has been provided to study the manner in which these state-mandated programs could be developed. More than this, the media is heralding the wisdom of using consolidations and shared services agreement to stretch the taxpayer's dollar. Pressure is being put upon local government to look at mergers and consolidations and the new way of doing business. Bartels, et al (2006) suggests that, "...both in profit and non-profits organizations, mergers seem to be the order of the day" (p. S49). New Jersey is merely joining with the balance of the country in their search to deliver fire protection services in a more cost-effective manner.

In order to understand how such consolidations and mergers work, we need to explore what they are, how they work, and the impacts of them upon our existing staff? The people who deliver the service have an important stake in the equation, as their lives and labors are an integral part of the manner in which fire protection services are delivered to the public: the people who are being asked to pay for the services which fire departments deliver. Research performed by Ling (2001) strongly indicated that, "...when considering consolidation as a way to cut cost and prepare for economic slow downs, we must consider how we effect the people involved" (p. 3). However, it has long been a personal belief that before any of us can determine how something should (or should not) be done, it is critical to come to an understanding of just what that something it is. In line with that, let us take a look at just what mergers and consolidations are and how they are supposed to work.

What is a merger? What is an acquisition? What is a consolidation? These are all critical questions which must be answered if we are to provide a clear portrait of the various opportunities for organizations to come together. While you might imagine that they are all the same, the differences might be a bit surprising to you. It is these differences which make the combination of two (or more) organizations somewhat problematic.

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