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Firehouse: You recently gave a “state of the department” address. How did that come about?
Hood: As you are well aware, communication within any organization can be a challenge, especially in a large metropolitan fire department. We have utilized various media to communicate with the troops – emails, newsletters, battalion chiefs meetings, company officers meetings and spending time with graduating classes of recruits and paramedics.
I happened to be at our wellness center working out and was approached by two young firefighters off a ladder company who were in for their annual physical. We engaged in conversation about the physicals and why they are important. As the conversation continued, we discussed several current events, new programs and projects. It was a worthwhile conversation, but I was frustrated about their lack of awareness in our department. It was like they were dropped in from Mars. I immediately met with my command staff to develop a plan for a “state of the department” address to reach every uniformed member within our department.
Firehouse: Question-and-answer sessions were conducted with about 96% of the department. What was the purpose?
Hood: The meetings were intended to share information on the department’s budget, performance metrics, construction of new facilities and department priorities for 2012. This was the first time the department has ever conducted such meetings with all our uniformed members. We were also privileged to have our city manager or deputy city manager in attendance for each delivery to thank our members for their service and answer their questions.
Our commitment to the members was to report back on each question asked and provide plans or solutions to the questions. As it turned out, the meetings were even more successful than anticipated; it was definitely a success. We will continue these meetings annually.
Firehouse: What is the state of training within the department?
Hood: We are very pleased with the state of training in our department. Our Training Division, which operates out of a state-of-the-art facility, is responsible for training our cadets as well as our incumbent firefighters. We average two cadet classes a year. Each cadet receives approximately 940 hours of academic and skills instruction, which includes the Firefighter I and Firefighter II curricula. Our class grade-point averages typically rank among the highest in the state.
As the profession of firefighting continues to evolve, it is critically important for our personnel to keep up with the changes in our field. Besides ensuring that all our personnel receive the minimum annual continuing education required by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection, our incumbent personnel receive training through a variety of methods, including training at the company and battalion levels, as well as through our Field Training Officer program. In 2010, our personnel completed nearly 43,000 hours of formalized training in over 100 different training modules.
Training remains one of our highest priorities. If we are not properly trained, we cannot provide the highest level of customer service possible to the citizens of our community.
Firehouse: The department hasn’t faced tough budget cuts. You are hiring personnel, building, rebuilding or expanding fire stations and thinking of future needs. Will this continue?
Hood: Public safety is a top priority of our mayor, city council and city manager. Although the city has faced budgetary shortfalls for the past few years, the fire department has managed to protect its existing resources and add 165 firefighter and paramedic positions in the past six years.
The department is not anticipating any extreme general-fund budget cuts next year. Improvements, however, may not be as significant as we have seen in previous years. The SAFD is currently constructing two replacement stations, a new services/logistics facility and our new Public Safety Headquarters. Two more replacement stations are under design and an additional two replacements are in the bond issue to be voted on by citizens in May.