One of my favorite speakers is Jack Snook, current president of ESCI Consulting and former fire chief of the very progressive Tualatin Valley (Ore.) Fire Department. I had the opportunity to hear the 36-year veteran of the fire service again last week during the annual Symposium in the Sun. Snook shared in his keynote address some interesting insights on the economy and changes fire chiefs need to make.'s Volunteer/Combination Officer Section's
"We're the best crisis managers in the world," he said, citing chiefs' abilities to arrive on scene quickly, assess the situation and respond to the threats at hand. However, most chiefs were caught off-guard by the economic crisis, according to Snook. Many chiefs assumed their funding was assured, so their forecasts were inaccurate and their financial systems unsustainable. Fire departments suffered from lack of contingency plans.
"The economy continues to be fragile. I don't think it's over, we're just going to start another round," Snook said.
Snook said that for too long, fire chiefs believed that fire departments were entitled to the lion's share of municipal budgets and that other agencies divided up what was left. Now, fire chiefs must accept that their departments no longer operate in budget silos.
"The fire department is something the community wants, but … they are only so many dollars and the community [also] wants the best schools, libraries, parks and public-safety services," Snook said. "We have to sit at the table with citizens and learn to share.
"One of the best things we can do in our community is to go home and be transparent with what we can do and what we cannot do," he said. "Is fire a high priority or is it drugs and crime? School systems or teachers being laid off?"
Fire chiefs also must accept constant change, rapid evolution and non-customized products, and refocus on core competencies, Snook said.
"Fire chiefs must embrace technology and rethink the status quo," he said. "It requires a new energy. Equip vehicles with AVLS; revise shift schedules; use part-timers, flexible work schedules, and shared resources; [and consider] smaller non-custom vehicles and motorcycle response."
Snook said that fire chiefs also must consider:
- What core services the department provides and its core mission is.
- Using technology to improve efficiency
- Preparing for regional service delivery
- The benefits of privatization
- Diversifying ideas
- Long-term planning
- Data-driven risk analysis
But is there one key to managing successfully the new reality? If there is, Snook said it's reconnecting to the community. "Fit the service to the community, not the community to the service," he said.
What new reality are you facing?