Collective Influence and Positive Relationships

Two columns I've written in the past year addressed topics that have become increasingly important in recent months. Not that they weren't important before, but as of late, circumstances have arisen that shine a spotlight on them for very special...


Two columns I've written in the past year addressed topics that have become increasingly important in recent months. Not that they weren't important before, but as of late, circumstances have arisen that shine a spotlight on them for very special reasons. The first column was titled "Positive...


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Two columns I've written in the past year addressed topics that have become increasingly important in recent months. Not that they weren't important before, but as of late, circumstances have arisen that shine a spotlight on them for very special reasons. The first column was titled "Positive and Productive Labor/Management Relations: More Important Than Ever" (September 2009) and the second was titled "Fire Departments and Politics" (July 2010).

The focus of the first column was on developing positive labor/management relationships inside fire departments and the value that doing so can bring to the organization. The column said that "anytime decisions that affect local service delivery and safety are being made outside of the fire department by consultants, city or state administrators, or elected officials, there is the possibility that the leadership inside the fire department will have the need to use their collective capabilities to develop a joint strategy to positively influence those decisions and the plans that emerge from them. When there isn't any collective capability between labor and management leaders in the first place because of a history of negativity and conflict, it makes the fire department even more vulnerable to external decisions that can be devastating to the organization, its members, and the public."

The second column's primary message was that productive political involvement by fire department leaders and labor officials is critical to the level of influence that can be brought to the decision-making process. The column makes the point that "fire department resources can be regulated almost entirely by the decisions that are made within various political processes." It goes on to say, "If a fire department's leaders don't get involved in the political process, they cannot expect to receive a high level of political support on a consistent basis." This is best achieved when labor does the things they do best and management does what they do best to collectively influence external decisions that can impact the safety of the public and the safety of firefighters.

The current economic environment in our nation is causing local, county and state levels of government, as well as fire districts, to be even more cautious and selective about the way they spend money. Fire departments have been asked to reduce their budgets significantly while still providing quality service to the public. However, in some cases, the economic situation is being used by people in positions of authority outside the fire department as an excuse to act out old agendas. One area of focus by these opportunists is outsourcing certain services currently provided by the fire department. As of late, there seems to be a renewed interest in outsourcing the ambulance transport component of fire service-based EMS systems, especially systems that service metropolitan areas.

A paper recently published by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association alerts fire chiefs and union leaders to a push that seems to be underway. They note that a very large private ambulance service provider has made proposals to several Metro Chiefs cities to replace the local fire department (in part or in full) as the provider of ambulance service. According to this document, "the impetus for (these) efforts is clearly the economic downturn and the budgetary shortfall in many municipalities. …They target cities with reported deficits where fire department resources are on the table." Their proposals contain the same old myths that have been asserted in the past, and the IAFC-IAFF-Metro Chiefs document does a good job of noting the facts that dispel each myth.

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