Let us separate the issue of staffing from apparatus and equipment. In many cases there is a larger fire apparatus fleet than is actually needed in a given area. This comes from a desire by many groups to have one of everything, even though a nearby neighbor has that particular piece ready and available for instantaneous deployment. While at one time this was not a problem, a combination of escalating costs for apparatus and equipment, and an economy that is not performing well makes this an attitude whose time has passed. When you factor in the costs of maintaining and insuring the fleet, you can see the potential for a dollar savings from consolidating different agencies. At least this has been our experience.
Gleibs, et. al. (2008) reported that, "… two thirds of all mergers do not meet their expectations and fail" (p. 1095). It is also important to understand why mergers sometimes fail. A number of such reasons were identified during research on this process:
- No cost savings occurred
- Service did not improve
- Different organizational cultures
- Fear of change
- Animosity between elemental subgroups within the merger process
- The blame game
There is also research which indicates that the merger/consolidation process can have a strong negative impact upon leadership within the combined, new organization. Ling (2001) notes that, "…the effects of combining services will have a different emotional impact on all involved. One estimate identified the period of ten years as the time it would take to develop a new leadership environment" (p. 5). In addition, in those cases where there is a service overlap, it is common to experience a loss in those positions which are suddenly surplus in the new reality. It has been the experience of a number of my professional associates and I, that three general reactions might be anticipated among people within an organization when faced with major organizational change:
- They see it, like it, and embrace it.
- They see it, need to be convinced of its rightness, and will wait to make their decision on how to interact with it
- They do not like it. They never will like it. They will do all within their power to make the new approach fail.
The key is to build upon the support of those people who like what they see and work to gain the support of those who are sitting on the fence, waiting to be convinced. Once you have won over these two groups, you need to be able to root out and challenge the people who are fighting the efforts at change. The most fortunate circumstance comes from people who openly challenge the change operation. Discipline is the tool of choice here. There will be a certain amount of behind the scenes and underground sniping at the changes. Be tough and stand by the decision to change. It is my personal experience that many times the only way to win is to outlive the other side.
Aakers, D.A. (2001). Strategic market management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Bartels, J., Douwes, R., de Jong, M. and Pruyn, A. (2006). Organizational identification during a merger: Determinants of identification with the new organization, British Journal of Management. (Vol. 17 pp, S49-S67).
Carter, H.R. (2001). It's all about me. Conshohocken, PA: Lyons Publishing
Gleibs, Mummendey, A. and Noack, P. (2008). Predictors of change on postmerger identification during a merger process: A longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 95, No. , 1095-1112
Ling, J.D. (2001). Fire department consolidation: A view from those effected. Ypsilanti, MI: School of Fire Staff and Command. Eastern Michigan University.
Reeger, J. (2008). Fire department mergers ahead. Pittsburgh, PA: The Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Retrieved on August 24, 2010.
Weidner, J.S (2010). Strength in numbers. Fire Chief Magazine, vol. 54, no. 5. p. 36-37.
HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his "A View From my Front Porch" blog. He recently published Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at email@example.com.