By Dennis Compton
At the start of the year, fire chiefs easily could develop a shopping list for which to be mindful. If not, they probably shouldn't be in the jobs in the first place.
"Mindfulness" as it relates to the leader of an organization would deal more with being aware of — and connected to — those things that are potential threats to the success of the organization. With all that fire departments (and the fire service in general) have been through, are going through, and will go through in the next period of time, successful fire chiefs will be keenly mindful of the overall environment they operate within and current issues that already are (or will) impact that environment based on internal and external factors.
Here are just a few examples of what I mean:
- In spite of whatever the fiscal status of the fire department may be, it is imperative that the fire chief stays mindful of the importance of strategic and operational planning to their department's success and morale. When there isn't a lot of new money coming into a system, it's easy to fall into the trap of putting the organization on auto pilot until times are better with the hope that they'll simply get it all back someday. This is a huge failing of leadership and the chief must stay mindful that this type of organizational behavior leads to other significant challenges for the department to face. It's the chiefs responsibility to ensure that the fire department is doing its very best today and has a realistic vision and plan for (at least) the near future.
- Most fire departments, career and volunteer, are involved to some degree in EMS delivery. as such, fire chiefs should know that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is incrementally becoming the law of the land. It's critical that they be mindful that this act — when fully implemented — will impact the delivery of pre-hospital 911 EMS in a variety of ways. This means that for a large number of fire departments, upwards of 80% of their emergency response system will be affected by the implementation of this act. There will be financial opportunities, as well as opportunities to enhance service delivery, but fire chiefs will miss them unless they are mindful of potential specific impacts and also enlightened concerning the various systemic changes that will be coming their way.
- Outside consulting firms are ambushing fire departments with biased evaluations with the pre-determined goal of significantly cutting the budget. If fire chiefs are aware that this is occurring (and it is), they should be mindful of the organizational environmental elements that makes a fire department very vulnerable to this occurring and try to avoid them. In other words, be mindful of what factors were present in cities where these firms actually approached the policymakers with a proposal, but weren't hired to perform a study. Often times, the difference between whether they are hired or not is mainly the quality of relationships that exist within the system. Relationships between the fire chief and the union, the fire chief and city management, the union and city management, the fire chief and elected officials, the union and elected officials, and the overall relationship and standing the fire department has in the community. There are consultants who do excellent and objective studies that can be helpful to improving a fire department, but fire chiefs must be mindful of what factors might contribute to a less than honorable consulting firm being hired, as well as what he/she can do to minimize the chances of that happening.
All three of these examples are challenges that chiefs will face between now and 2015 (and beyond). "Mindfulness" as a fire chief is more than dealing with day-to-day challenges. Those are important, but so is being informed and involved as a professional leader in a way that contributes significantly to the current and future success of the fire department and the city, and perhaps even the fire service as a whole.