Get S.M.A.R.T.—Goal Setting for the Fire Service

May 30, 2023
David Hupp believes that effective goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable and time-based.

Do you find that your department always is reacting—or even sometimes overreacting—to the latest crisis or trend? Does this cause your department to rehash the same issues over and over again? If your answers are yes, you aren’t alone; it can be difficult to look beyond the next call. To take a more proactive stance in your department, goal setting can help.

Goal setting is an essential element of any successful fire department. The process of goal setting tells a story: where you were, where you are and where you want to be. Essentially, without goal setting, it’s impossible for a department to tell whether it has been successful. Furthermore, goal setting can help to improve the engagement of your officers and to promote their professional growth.

What is S.M.A.R.T.?

Effective goals are S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, time-based). S.M.A.R.T. goal setting is a tool that can be utilized to ensure that a comprehensive goal is being set.

A goal should be specific; in other words, it shouldn’t be broad. It should include exactly what’s to be accomplished and who is responsible.

A goal should be measurable, or quantifiable, and tied to a metric or number.

A goal should be attainable, in that it should be realistic and capable of being met.

A goal should be reasonable, where it’s within the department’s capability and not something that’s beyond its influence.

A goal should be time-based with a deadline. Milestone dates also can be included, to ensure that progress is being made.

Departmental goals

An example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal could be the reduction of workplace injuries at a firehouse. In this example, the department updates its strategic plan and identifies a weakness of increased workplace injuries at the firehouse, particularly in lower back and lower extremity injuries. Also, the department commits to a strategic value of working in a safe environment, because it’s become concerned with injuries and the increase of cancer rates among firefighters.

A S.M.A.R.T. goal might include the following: Reduce the number of lower back and lower extremity workplace injuries to 1 per month from an average of 2½ per month within 90 days through the use of a flexibility program that’s developed in coordination with a local physical therapy practice.

This goal is specific, in that it highlights the exact types of injuries (lower back and lower extremities) and identifies the exact process improvement (a flexibility program that’s developed by physical therapy experts).

The goal is measurable: a baseline period of 2½ injuries per month with the goal of reducing it to 1 injury per month.

The goal is attainable, because it is targeted at approximately one fewer injury per month and not the unattainable zero injuries per month.

The goal is reasonable, because it aligns with the department value of working in a safe environment. Further, it’s within the scope of the firehouse to effect.

The goal is time-based, because it states that the average of 1 fewer injury per month will be reached within 90 days.

Individual goals

Goal setting also can help at the individual level, particularly with officer accountability, transparency and professional growth.

For instance, an officer might be placed in charge of overseeing a program, such as preplanning, apparatus check-offs or improving the turnover process. Simply assigning an officer to be in charge of overseeing this program or telling this individual to simply improve it and just “get it done” is a recipe for not meeting expectations—because an expectation isn’t set. To set an expectation that the officer can be held accountable to, goal setting is needed.

An example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal at the individual level could be for an officer to be placed in charge of ensuring that members complete their apparatus check-offs: Ensure each of the six apparatus is checked off at the beginning of each shift (within the first 30 minutes) with greater than 90 percent compliance.

This goal is specific, in that it references the number of apparatus that’s included in the check-off program, when during the shift the checkoffs are to occur and the time duration in which they should be started.

The goal is measurable, because it includes the number of apparatus, the amount of time that’s allowed to begin the check-off each shift and the targeted percent compliance.

The goal is attainable, because it allows for a 10 percent buffer to account for unforeseen circumstances, such as a piece of apparatus being committed on a call during the change of shift.

The goal is reasonable, because this is a common expectation—ensure apparatus operational readiness—and within the officer’s ability through various oversight mechanisms, such as setting up an inbox for completed check-offs to ensure that they are being carried out.

In this example, the time-based element is utilized through the 30-minute time frame in which the check-off is to be completed at the beginning of a shift.

This goal provides the officer with a frame of reference by which to benchmark success. The officer knows exactly what must be accomplished to be successful in meeting expectations. Further, the officer now can highlight this success in a meaningful way during any performance review as evidence of following directions, accomplishing a directive and having a positive effect on the department.

Focused on the substantive

Goal setting can help a department to focus on critical activities, as opposed to wasteful endeavors, because it focuses efforts toward meeting specific expectations. This focus can assist the department in keeping a forward-thinking mentality, because the goal sets the bar that must be met. This mentality prevents rehashing of previous issues, or inefficient rework, because goal setting adds both clarity and collaborative efforts that work in the same direction.

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