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Everyone reading this commentary belongs to an organization. In some cases we belong to more than one organization. So that we will not diffuse our focus, let's all concentrate on the one type of organization where we have a common interest, the fire department.
As the member of a fire service organization, you will continually be subjected to the influences created by the three major elements of any organization. These are:
- Organizational structure.
- Organizational process.
- Organizational behavior.
I have found during my many years of fire service experience that there is one sure guide for you on your way through the rocks and shoals of your organizational ocean. These are the policies that have been established to guide the operation of your particular organization.
It is the wise leader who masters the art of policy development. There is no better way to leave a lasting imprint on your fire department than to take a strong leadership role in laying out your road map to success.
It has also been my experience that you must become intimately familiar with the concept of policy and what its impact will be for you and your fire department. I would like to use an example to assist you in understanding where I am headed with this concept.
Would you ever consider starting out on a long journey to a faraway location without a road map? I don't think so. Just as you would need a map to guide you on a trip through some strange and unfamiliar territory, so then is a policy book your guide through the world of organizational operations.
A number of terms are synonymous with policy. It has been my experience that an individual organizational member must become familiar with the terms mission statement, policy statement, standard operating procedure or however they are named in your organization. A leader who fails to master these concepts and bring his or her agency into the development mix risks destroying the very fabric of the fire department.
There are a number of items that I collectively lump under the heading of policy. Regardless of what your agency might choose to call them, policies offer the guidance necessary for you to get your job done in an effective and efficient manner. To use a phrase that is popular in the world of community bands, "You all have to be playing from the same sheet of music." Think about how bad it would sound if the flutes were playing Beethoven, the trumpets were playing Mozart, and the tuba section was belting out a fine old Sousa march. You would have a cacophony of chaos.
And so it is with fire departments, as it is with all organizations. I have noted that a major problem faced by fire departments across America revolves around the fact that they are entering new areas of operational expertise, where old ideas and training are just not good enough to get the job done.
To protect itself and its members, the organization must set down, in writing, the ways in which it intends to do business, so that all personnel can operate to a common denominator; similar rules and uniform procedures. Lest you set off in pursuit of writing policy without a method to use in accomplishing the task, take heart for I am about to give you some much-needed help.
The greatest problem I have seen in the policy-making arena over the years has been the tendency that some people have for starting out on their trip to a workable policy without knowing what it is that they wish to accomplish. You have to know what you want the policy to do before you can write a policy to do it.
If you feel that your department's response to daytime fires should be standard, then you must decide, before hand, which units you wish to send to a particular type of incident. You would then specify the manner in which they are to respond. Something that does not specifically pertain to daytime response should not be a part of any daytime response policy. And so it must be with every aspect of how your fire department operates. There should be a definitive written policy. This is critical. Otherwise, you might discover that you have several different sub-fire departments operating within your agency.