A Strong Foundation For Service Delivery

Dennis Compton uses the analogy of a three-legged stool to show how a fire department is at its strongest when all of its interdependent parts work together.


The fire service has a special role in society and a unique relationship with our customers. I have spoken with many customers after we have provided service to them … sometimes months or years afterwards. It's interesting how they describe their event and the way they incorporate us into the...


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Emergency response is a critical service delivery piece of the system. This leg of the stool is just as important as the other two. When our customers dial 911 they expect and require service that is fast, skillful and provided by firefighters who care. This includes response to fires, medical emergencies, hazmat situations, technical rescues and a wide range of service calls. Our emergency response menu has changed significantly over the years, and that change cycle will continue into the future. Without a strong emergency response element of the system, the stool is not stable and cannot support the weight of the mission.

The braces that support the legs of the stool are also important to its overall stability. These include the broad categories of:

  • Training and preparation to perform in our roles.
  • The infrastructure and equipment needs, such as facilities, apparatus, equipment, communications systems, prevention and public education props, etc.
  • Partnerships, relationships and politics necessary for us to function as a community leader and participant in a variety of settings and ways.
  • Members and system support is critical if we expect our human resources to function in a positive, productive, healthy and safe environment. To a large extent, this dictates the strength and effectiveness of every leg and brace of the stool.

This stool represents the investment a community makes in the current and future effectiveness of the fire department in meeting its mission. A strong foundation will support the full weight of the community and the mission. A weak or damaged part of the stool effects its overall strength and usefulness.

As our emergency response systems continue to expand into a full range of services, our prevention, public education, and support programs must be modified to do the same. We shouldn't reduce our emphasis on fire safety, rather, we should increase our emphasis on the life safety piece of the all risk education equation. We shouldn't decrease our capabilities in firefighting, rather, we should increase our capabilities in the full range of emergency response skills, services, and resources. It isn't an either/or choice - it's a system.

A systems approach designed to address and support the whole mission: prevention, all-risk public education and emergency response - preventing or responding to our customers' "worst day of their lives" in a way that exceeds their expectations and needs every time. If the customers were our own loved ones, that's the minimum we would expect and accept.

I'm proud every time the Mesa Fire Department does this - and what's really nice is that our members do it every day. So do many other fire service members and fire departments. The fire service is a special calling, with a special set of responsibilities, and a very special relationship with our customers and our communities as a whole. Building and maintaining this stool is hard work, but I know we're up to it. Let's keep going.


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 almost 30 years, Compton has been involved in many fire service and civic organizations, and is a well-known speaker and author. He is the immediate past chair of the Executive Board of the International fire service Training Association (IFSTA) and is the vice chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee.