Back in the heady years of my youth, there was a popular song which told us that, "...the answer my friends is blowin' in the wind." Bob Dylan's music tribute to the anti-war movement might well have been created to show us that no matter how we thought our lives would turn out, forces beyond our control could alter the way things would turn out.
It seems like Dylan portrayed life as a series of imponderable questions to which we would only have the answer when things actually happened. I can recall the uncertainty of that time in our history and the fact that something as simple as a draft notice could provide a life-ending change in someone's carefully constructed life. Hell, I spent nearly three years away from home in Alaska, the Philippine Islands, and Vietnam. I did not see that coming when I graduated from high school with the Class of 1965.
Many years have passed and untold gallons of water have flowed over the dam of my life since the mid 1960's. It has been my good fortune to have lived a satisfying life; one built upon a faith in God, one filled with a great family and a very satisfying career. However, I believe it has been a great life owing to the fact that I periodically made plans and set goals for myself.
It is my belief that far too many fire departments have no concept of what planning is and why they should do it. Each year follows the one just ahead of it in a seemingly endless array of sameness. Chiefs wonder why they keep facing budget cuts and service reduction scenarios. There is a reason my friends.
My research and experience have shown a correlation between diminished organizational funding for emergency services and an increased danger to the customer who expects the service, owing to the lack of a well-thought-out strategic plan for future growth and development. If the service is not delivered in a timely manner lives are placed at risk.
This problem is not once of recent making. In a discussion of the historical evolution of fire service in America back in 1989 I spoke to the fact that fire protection issues have evolved as a result of changes demanded by the social and political pressures of the 20th Century". I also spoke to the issue of continuing problems in delivering fire services. The issue of increased taxes is exacerbated by a concurrent decrease in the availability of taxable properties. Problems like this are a part of what strategic planning seeks to address.
Unless you are in charge, there is precious little you can do for your organization as a whole. It is up to the leader. The leader must have a vision of the direction in which they believe the organization should be headed. The leader must chart the course and plan for the future. Sadly, far too many of these folks will seek to cop a plea.
I am only a fire chief, they will say, so how can I stand up to the challenges with which life continually surprises me? They will happen regardless of what I do. Another might tell you that they are not a miracle-worker. I am only human these folks are often heard to mumble. Oh, woe is me they will moan. How can I control the fickle finger of fate? What a bunch of losers.
The problem with far too many fire service leaders is that their concept of planning embraces such meaningful choices as where to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner on a given day. For people such as these, long-range planning involves a discussion of where to have lunch next week. Life is not simple. Life is not predictable. However, life does involve a series of recurring events that can be anticipated with a certain degree of certainty.
Many times we in the fire service act as though we are the victims of a whimsical malevolent benefactor who creates failure for us at every turn in the road. How else can we explain how poorly most fire departments react to the changing world around them? The explanation is really quite simple. Ignoring the future comes with a price.