Fire Politics: A Political Reality: It's All About Relationships

T here is plenty for a fire chief and his or her executive team to do just running the fire department on a day-to-day basis. Dealing with the challenges that accompany the management of personnel, finances, services, programs and activities in the...


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Fire chiefs cannot possibly have missed recent stories about certain private management consultants ambushing fire departments with biased evaluations they call independent studies. The studies are conducted with the pre-determined goal of cutting the fire department budget. It is not only important that fire chiefs are aware that this is occurring, but they should be conscious of the environment that can make a fire department particularly vulnerable to this type of ambush so that they can act to avoid it. One way to do that is to become informed of factors that were present in cities where these consulting firms approached the policy-makers with a proposal, but were not hired to perform the study.

Often times, the difference between whether they are hired or not is primarily determined by the quality of relationships that exist within the system, including political relationships. These include relationships between the fire chief and elected officials, the union and elected officials and the overall relationship and standing the fire department has in the community. To be fair, there are management consultants who do excellent and objective studies that can be helpful to improving a fire department. However, a fire chief must be well informed of the various factors that could contribute to a less-than-honorable consulting firm being hired. Knowledge and involvement on the part of fire chiefs may minimize the chances of their fire departments being victims of less-than-objective independent management studies.

I could identify other examples, but hopefully these three begin to make the point. Fire department leaders who proactively build positive relationships with policy-makers, including elected officials and other community leaders, provide important avenues for dealing with big-picture issues facing their departments and communities. One of the most effective ways that professional leaders accomplish this is to be involved, engaged and informed concerning trends and issues facing the fire service and their departments. This is not only good leadership and management, but it is also a political reality that significantly impacts organizational success. n