Bryson: I have an agenda of various issues, one of which was “expectations.” I tell them I expect them to run their battalions and manage their people. One of my main principles is the power that personal influence has. I tell the battalion chiefs that they have to talk to members of their battalion and set clear expectations. I ask them to start easily with their influence and make corrections if expectations were not met.
Firehouse: Penalties for offenses have been changed. Please explain your proactive progressive approach to offenders.
Bryson: I have a couple of theories on discipline. First, use the tack hammer instead of the sledgehammer. Discipline is intended to modify behavior. A tack-hammer approach basically means start with the least amount of discipline that will modify the behavior. This is beneficial in many ways – employees get a chance to modify their behavior and, in most cases, live up to expectations. It prevents long, protracted investigations and the discipline is appropriate because it is just, preventing costly grievance decisions. Second, use the sniper’s rifle instead of the shotgun. The sniper’s-rifle theory is one I learned over my career by watching policy after policy come out because one person committed some unique act. When we get someone like that, I like to make that person our “hobby.” We work on them and the other 99% are not burdened with more useless policies.
Firehouse: Does the department interact with the five nearby fire departments?
Bryson: Yes, all the departments in the county attend monthly meetings through an organization that was formed years ago called the Fire Officers Association of Miami-Dade (FOAMD). FOAMD has a wide variety of committees that enable departments to work together on issues of mutual interest. We also have a longstanding mutual aid agreement that works well. As fire chiefs, we have a good personal working relationship where we can call each other for any urgent need that may arise.
Firehouse: How have you been able to restore a positive morale to the rank and file?
Bryson: I think members of the department were looking for stabilization and direction. There were labor issues, an opened contract with pay cuts looming and a lot of negative publicity toward our profession. Successfully negotiating a three-year contract in seven weeks that had no wage cuts – some other concessions were in it – sent a pretty good message. We improved dramatically the relationship with the Local and started focusing a lot on being professional on and off duty. It is a great feeling as fire chief to see the rank and file here so qualified and able to perform. I feel like we have seen a steady positive increase in morale that is continuing.
Firehouse: Of nine labor contracts, fire was the first to be signed and sealed. How has your past experience helped?
Bryson: In the past, when I worked for the City of Miami Fire Department, I was a Local 587 Executive Board member for 15 years, serving as union president for the last six. I served my last nine years in Miami as fire chief. For two of those years, I was asked to also run the Office of Labor Relations for the city and took that on. Summing it up, I learned a lot from my experiences in these positions and still remember the principles I learned in each discipline. My best education has come from what I have experienced and learned in the field.
Firehouse: The training academy was built in 2010. What features benefit the department?
Bryson: When I first came to Miami-Dade Fire headquarters and went behind to our new training center, I was in awe. It has a pool that has communication abilities. Live-fire props for auto, tanker rollover, shipboard, four types of buildings and layouts for tech rescue evolutions. There is a huge outdoor shelter and multiple class and meeting rooms. There is even a portion of the facility for recruits to work in a mock fire station with a kitchen, bunks, and truck bay. Right now, the one thing we are missing is the correct number of training staff for a department of this size. The current local economy has really hit us hard, but we look to improve in the future.
Firehouse: How does training reach members at every level within the department?
Bryson: The Training Division has a yearly plan for various classes and drills. In all honesty, I haven’t been able to put together a comprehensive plan yet, but know we will take on that task soon.