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Strategic planning is an important part of creating a successful future for any organization. An early warning was laid for all to read in the first century B.C., when Publilius Syrus stated in Maxim 469 that, “A bad plan admits to modification” (Bartlett, page 99). Far too many leaders within the fire service are unaware of the importance of and the need for strategic planning. Classically, a minimum amount of effort was made in the planning arena. Usually, what planning occurred came when the budget was being developed. However, it was rare in decades past for a fire service leader to be concerned with the future. It was tough enough living from year to year; who had time to worry about the future?
A greater emphasis has emerged over the past four decades. Beginning with the first Wingspread Conference in 1966, the concept of planning for future operations began to grow in importance. The report of the conference proceedings specifically stated, “The traditional concept that fire protection is strictly a responsibility of local government must be reexamined” (1966 Wingspread, page 15). Until that point, no one spoke of fire protection in any way other than parochial, localized terms. This was the first look at the fire service as something that lived within a larger world.
A 1969 federal law authorized the creation of a National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control within the Department of Commerce. Its charge was to determine the extent of America’s fire problem, then develop recommendations for improving the nation’s response to fire and its related issues of death, injury and property damage. The commission’s report, America Burning, was issued in 1973 and assessed:
- The fire services
- Fire and the built environment
- Fire and the rural wildland environment
- Fire prevention
- Programs for the future
One recommendation was the call for a fire service commitment to “Master Planning,” defined as documents that “should set goals and priorities for the fire services, designed to meet the changing needs of the community” (America Burning, 1973, page 29). It was at this point that the fire service community began to think that perhaps a need existed to organize fire protection also a set series of understandable guidelines.
Ten years after the first Wingspread, another Wingspread Conference was sponsored by the Johnson Foundation in Wisconsin. The report from that event broadened the intent of the original 1966 commentary. In this case, a number of new concepts were mentioned:
2. The fire service should approach the concept of regionalization without bias.
3. Fire departments should thoroughly analyze new demands being placed upon them before accepting new responsibilities (Wingspread II, 1976, pages 11-17).
These words were echoed and amplified by the Wingspread III Conference in 1986. In that report, government decision makers were urged to develop and use better criteria in determining the best way to develop a cost-effective approach to local fire protection delivery systems. The report participants also went on to note that the traditional role of fire departments is changing (Wingspread III, 1986, page 1).
Yet another conference was held in Dothan, AL, in 1996. The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) hosted that long-range, high-level planning meeting. It was determined by the attendees that the pace of change in the fire service was increasing and that the old goals needed to be re-examined.
The findings amplified the findings of the earlier documentation. However, important new thoughts emerged from the session. To allow for the proper planning for fire protection delivery systems to occur, it was determined that nationally recognized standards should be adopted that would provide guidance for such critical issues as: