The Answer is Blowin' in the Wind

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...

You can plan for the future, if you choose. I have been at this business long enough to know how little we have done with regard to planning through the years. That does not mean that changing our collective minds is out of order. On any given day each of us can choose to change the way we operate; the way we approach life.

The application of planning principles to our fire service operations has been uneven. There are places with excellent strategic plans in place. There are those forward-looking leaders who welcome the future and anticipate the joys of changing to meet the needs of the future.

Unfortunately far too many people among us lack any established operational plan for the future. Let me suggest to you that we will continue to be dismissed by the bean-counters, politicians, and administrators until we are able to tighten up our departmental operations.

It is important to look at the planning process as a bridge from the present time to some future period of time. The first part of the planning process is to thoroughly assess where your organization is today. You should first look to identify the demands which your community makes for emergency services. What are the hazards in your community? What are the demographics of your existing community structure? You need to think about people, places, and things.

You need to identify your community's fire situation. You need to assess the need for other services such as EMS, technical rescue, fire prevention, public education. You need to assess the community-based factors which will work to increase or decrease the need for your services in your community. Think of this as the act of establishing the beginning point for your journey to the future.

Once you understand the demands that your community makes on your fire department you need to discover exactly how much fire department you have. Again I am asking you to think in terms of the people, places, and things that constitute your fire agency. How many people do you have? How many stations currently exist? How many pieces of apparatus exist in your fleet? What is the training level of your people and what is the maintenance condition of your fleet?

You need to assess the ability of your department to meet the identified needs of your community. One of the steps which far too many fire departments leave out of their planning process involves interacting with the community itself. These are the folks who will end up footing the bill for the plan you seek to create.

People skip this step because they feel the public does not understand what we do. If they do not understand us it is only because we have failed to educate them as to what we do. Many times over the years I have preached a simple basic mantra. If we are to succeed in the delivery of our service we need to arm ourselves with three things:

  • Facts
  • Figures
  • Friends

The figures are the actual, identifiable proof for the merits of the plan you wish to create. The figures are the cement which bonds the many blocks of your plan together into a seamless success story. Again, do not fudge the figures. Let your data serve as the series of luminaries which will light the way ahead which will be your journey to the future.

The friends are those people whom you have cultivated in the community. These are the people who are convinced of the rightness of your plan and help you sell it to the powers that be. Do not use falsehoods to win people over to your side. Be a friend to people, be honest with them, and help them when you can. Friendship is a two-way street. If you do not hold up your end of the bargain, people will see you as a phony and move away from you in droves.

To reach this point you must be able to identify your community in terms of geography, demography, fire department response capabilities, and desired services. Are there special problems such as hazardous materials risks, highway areas, or major aircraft traffic overhead? You must determine exactly how your community is laid out. Are the natural boundaries such as rivers, hills, or mountains? Is your community bisected by a rail corridor that can limit movement at certain times of the day?