Once they are comfortable, engage them with hard questions. Ask them if they think you should have a budget increase? Ask them if fire prevention is a function that the fire department should perform? Ask them how you can perform your inspections better or if you should do them more frequently? If you have done your job of helping them understand what you do, they will see the need and be a strong advocate. However, be ready for some answers you didn't expect. Sometimes they will tell you something you didn't want to hear or at the very least, didn't expect to hear. Now, the good news is those answers are generally very important for you to hear. They will likely head off contentious issues with your policy makers before it gets ugly. If they help you find a solution, they will also be the first ones in your court helping persuade your policy makers. The group provides you with the voices of the community.
Some chiefs and fire marshals feel this type of participation is unnecessary or even a hindrance. We would propose however, it can be a very smart progressive move, particularly if you are moving into rough political waters. The advisory group can be a strong voice for you but insulate you from being on the end of the spear in many cases. Remember if this group has a concern they can share with you, it is likely a concern of many within the community. This deserves to be listened to before it becomes a bigger issue! Remember, if you establish the ground rules early, you can agree to disagree with them too. This type of respectful interaction is proof certain of your trusting relationship with your community.
BRETT LACEY, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is the Fire Marshal for the Colorado Springs, CO, Fire Department and a professional engineer. He has over 27 years in the fire service and has served on various technical committees including NFPA 1031, IFSTA committee for Inspection practices, and Fire Detection and Suppression Systems and the Colorado Fire Marshal's Association Code Committee. PAUL VALENTINE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is the Fire Marshal for the Mount Prospect, IL, Fire Department and formerly served as their fire protection engineer. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Science Degree in Management and Organizational Behavior from Benedictine University and is a graduate from the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Brett and Paul co-authored Fire Prevention Applications, published by Fire Protection Publications. They also presented a webcast titled Fire Prevention Applications on Firehouse TrainingLIVE. To read their complete biographies and view their archived articles, click here. You can reach Paul by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.