Strategic & Operational Planning: Bringing Progress To Life

The year 2000 was exciting and busy, as is every year it seems. In the Mesa, AZ, Fire Department, we used 2000 to get ready for the next several years. We placed a high priority on completing updates to our Ten-Year Strategic Plan and our Five-Year Operational Plan.

There are significant differences in these two documents, and I will cover some of them in this article. The Ten-Year Plan is a long-range, more general look at where we're headed as a fire organization and as part of the City of Mesa governmental structure. The Five-Year Plan is more detailed and identifies specific issues and recommends strategies to address them.

An incredible amount of effort was devoted to developing these documents in 2000. Together they provide organizational direction and define the direction we'll take in moving toward our vision. Our Research and Planning Function, as well as many other people in our system, are quite proud of these planning products and tools.

Ten-Year Strategic Plan

To develop the Ten-Year Strategic Plan, a team of approximately 60 members of our department agreed to be part of the effort. Prior to completing the plan, we conducted an employee survey, an external customer survey, and an internal customer survey. The results served to help gain constituent input and identify concerns that could be folded into the process. We also use "Program Management Guides," which are short-term management and reporting tools covering every major program in the department, and an active labor/management process to help guide our efforts as well.

Sixty team members representing all levels of the organization met on Nov. 30, 1999, to revise the Departmental Strategic Plan. The process was facilitated by representatives from the City of Mesa Quality and Organizational Development Office. The first session included an analysis of the current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats faced by the organization and moved through structured sessions that resulted in a finalized document on Feb. 14, 2000. Also included was a review of the Department's Vision, Mission and Values. Action plans have been created for each goal, and progress is monitored every six months.

The organizational areas of the plan include:

  • Emergency Services
  • Facilities and Equipment
  • Fire Prevention
  • Internal Support and Development
  • Fire and Life Safety Education
  • Regional Coordination and Interaction

The document includes many pictures, graphics, maps and charts to help communicate this 10-year look into the future. It also contains our "Performance Guarantee," which is a promise that we make to all of our internal and external customers.

The goals set forth in this document will be adjusted as necessary based on organizational changes, the budget, and politics. This Ten-Year Plan will serve as a roadmap to help guide the future development of Mesa's Fire and Life Safety Infrastructure - the "stool" graphic (see illustration at right).

The planning process includes established strategic goals and general timeframes within which to complete them. The quality of service to our customers, inside and outside the organization, depends to a large extent on how well we plan our future. An organization without vision and long-range planning will struggle as it moves forward. This Ten-Year Strategic Plan is a living example of the tremendous benefit that comes from the workforce and management working together for a better tomorrow.

Five-Year Operational Plan

After the Ten-Year Strategic Plan was completed, the department staff began working on an update to the Five-Year Operational Plan. An important part of this document is a summary of progress made since the original plan was developed in 1998.

Like the "stool" graphic, each leg of the department's service delivery system (Fire Prevention, Emergency Response, and Fire and Life Safety Education) provides a vital element to the success of the organization. The braces of the stool (support programs) are also critical. The stool serves as a simple reminder of how important each member of the department is to our success.

The Five-Year Operational Plan was developed from the 2000-2010 Strategic Plan. The broad goals created within the strategic plan are narrowed to address (in greater detail) the first five years (2000-2005). Each goal from the six original planning areas is expanded to address specific issues and strategies. It includes our "Operational Structure," as well as an overview of the Department and the more significant planning assumptions that were used in the plan development.

As with the Ten-Year Strategic Plan, the Five-Year Operational Plan includes pictures, graphics, logos and detailed comparisons for benchmarking purposes. It also includes a pictured glossary of terms that are frequently used in management and City Council reports. This is a popular, very useful part of the document. Action plans and other in-place management tools are used to monitor the progress of this plan.


This stratified approach to planning brings clarity and serves to guide our future. Every member of the department receives his or her own personal copy. It is also widely distributed within city management and elsewhere.

This commitment to planning pays off by giving us a compass and specific points of reference. It also provides an excellent tool to assist with financial planning.

These documents are of little use without accountability and monitoring. If they go on a shelf and sit there, it was only interesting that we went through the planning process. The members of the Mesa Fire Department are committed to bringing these plans to life. I couldn't be more proud of them because both plans are designed around providing the best service possible outside the system and supporting those inside the system as best we can in providing those services. As a side note, the staff of the Mesa Fire Department developed these plans while also working on our department accreditation document and everything else they do for a living. They deserve a lot of credit for their efforts.

Dennis Compton, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire chief in Mesa, AZ. He previously served as assistant fire chief in the Phoenix Fire Department. During a career that spans 30 years, Compton has been involved in many fire service and civic organizations. He is a well-known speaker and is the author of many publications, including the series of books titled, When In Doubt, Lead. He is the immediate past chair of the executive board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) and is the chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee, and serves on the board of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Compton is a charter member of the Arizona Fire Service Hall of Fame.