If you were asked, "How do you measure your fire/EMS company's success?" how would you respond? Would you pull out the statistics on property saved vs. property lost (fire loss)? Would you look at your total response time? Would you measure the number of members that turn out for emergency calls? Would you look at total fundraising or the development of a budget that meets your needs and stays within the means? Would you look at success of patient care procedures, i.e., IV sticks, intubations, proper implementation of specified medical protocols, etc.? These are all ways that we can measure success and they are very valuable to the organization's ability to deliver the services to the customer. Fire and EMS agencies have traditionally been very good at measuring success in these areas in order to satisfy the inquiring citizen as well as the scrutinizing jurisdictional authority (City Council, Mayor, City Manager, County Commission, Fire Supervisory Board, et al). It is time we spend more time measuring our success by looking inside to our most valuable resources - our members and employees.
One way that we can measure company success is to look at the dynamics of life in our stations. Do you have one or more of these members on your team - "He (or she) is a great firefighter who can do any job on the fire ground, but he/she is a pain in the rear to live with"? They are only happy when working a legitimate call? Does this same person or persons constantly complain about overall operations and always believes that if it was done his/her way, things would be better? If you have one of these on your team, doesn't their behavior and attitude affect the entire crew?
An employee or member who falls into this category has a negative impact on company cohesiveness. As a crew, we spend the majority of our time "living" together and not on emergency incidents, let alone legitimate emergencies. In a volunteer system, a member who only seems to "appear" when the pager sounds contributes little value to the overall effectiveness of the station. Like a contagious disease, other members/employees will mimic behaviors that are seen as accepted or acceptable.
A successful company has crew and members that can interact well professionally, both during emergency operations and non-emergency operations, and they interact well socially - that is, living together. If you are the company officer, you need to realize that you cannot make everyone happy all of the time (you will go crazy trying). Instead, recognize individual differences, spend time getting to know what makes a person "tick", and use those characteristics in ways to compliment the entire force.
Another measure of company success can be found by evaluating safety related statistics. Needless to say, both firefighting and EMS have their inherent dangers. However, through administrative controls (SOP's/SOG's, policy), engineering controls (PPE, equipment design), and human factor controls (medical screenings, physicals, physical fitness, training) we can minimize the number of injuries that occur.
On the average, over 85,000 firefighters are injured every year on the job. This number is believed to be under-reported. Injuries occur in the line of duty (delivering service), in the station, training, and while operating vehicles. They result from failure to utilize personal protective equipment (PPE). Successfully reducing these numbers (trending) can be directly related to company risk reduction strategies. Are all members aware of the SOP's? Are they followed? Is proper equipment available and used? Does the manpower assigned to a task allow for a successful outcome? Are the company leaders leading by example (both good and bad)? By addressing these control factors, greater overall good can be expected.
Related to the overall safety culture is the value that the organization places on the employee's/member's well-being. Are medical physicals offered annually? How about immunizations? Is blood-borne pathogen training provided? Is there availability of exercise equipment and time allotted to use it? Fire/EMS work is a team sport. Any athletic team that is under-funded, under-equipped, and out of physical condition cannot be expected to be the champions. Our crews are no different! Company success is counting on it.
Commitment to the organization is another area where we can gage company success. Regardless of the type of department, there are meetings to attend, drills to participate in, fundraisers, ceremonies, and numerous committees that need filling. In order for the department to grow, we need diversity and representation from all levels of members. Take a look at your department. Are the same faces showing up for all of the functions? Is there an avenue that allows members to participate in committee work? And finally, is information reaching the front lines that would invite this widespread participation or are they finding out after the fact?
Another side of organizational commitment is the "buy-in" of programs, policies, and procedures. Fire and rescue personnel should be able to see the big picture and understand how their efforts contribute to the organizations success. Many times, new programs are not received well and therefore, not fully appreciated. Have you as a company officer or squad leader adequately explained the reasons for the new procedures? Does the crew understand the importance of success with that project, whether a smoke detector program, a fund raiser, or a community "show and tell"? Often, improving the message communications from the top down will facilitate "buy-in" at the company level. In turn, this will lead to company success for those programs.
Personal Growth and Development
A final way (at least for this article) that we can measure company success is to look at the professional growth of the individuals within the group. Are we putting the right emphasis on the need for formal education and continuous training? Is the opportunity for this education and training being given to all members? Are you grooming the team for promotions? Is there succession planning in place so that when officers retire, leave, or their term expires we will have trained personnel to step into that role? A successful company and an effective company officer will continuously prepare their troops for the next step.
In this article, four non-traditional success measures were discussed. There are many more and some may be more relevant to your situation. Regardless of the specific needs of both your company and your department, take the time to look within the ranks and foster traits and skills that can lead you to managing a successful company.