Each of the 30,000-plus fire departments in this country do the best they can with the resources they have and what the community and policy makers are willing to fund. There are risks involved and, consciously or unconsciously, the residents accept a certain level of risk.
No one can argue that all fire departments are created equal, and everyone gets the same level of service. In fact, one could even opine that there are variations of service from station to station and shift to shift even within the same department. Sometimes the differences are small and in other cases much greater.
In the vast majority of emergencies that receive a response from a fire department, the problem is resolved, and the level of competence is undiscernible. But it is in the few specialty cases where competence is absolutely essential.
So, the question to all is, “How good do you want to be?” Everyone will answer that they want to be outstanding and expect to be. But we all know that this is not the case. There are elements of greatness that elude many departments. Some of it is due to the previously mentioned lack of resources. In these cases, it is difficult to assess any reasonable evaluation specifically on the organization.
There are departments that don’t have the basics of providing service, and that is not a reflection on the dedication and commitment of the members. But for those that have more support, what are they doing to continually improve and stay as current as possible? This is no easy task for a variety of reasons, including inadequate staffing, increasing run volumes, and additional job responsibilities.
Being great at something does not always mean a huge leap from being good at something. The difference between champions and those not getting to celebrate is often quite small. For organizations striving to continually improve, they need to view their operations with a very fine lens that pays attention to detail and seeks improvements that may not seem huge but can make a big difference in outcomes.
For those looking to give the best they have to offer, they need to practice regularly, i.e. train every day. They also need to stay current by getting information from a variety of sources, including trade magazines, conferences, workshops, and reliable internet locations.
One way that great organizations continue to pursue improved competence is by measuring their abilities. This can be done in comparison to recognized standards or internal goal-setting. As an example, we know every fire department must deploy attack lines. How fast can your organization do it? What is your standard based upon your staffing and resources? If someone were to randomly visit your department, would any and all of your companies be able to meet that standard at a moment’s notice?
This should not be unreasonable, as we don’t know when the next fire will happen and when we have to perform. The difference between a really successful operation with minimal damage and the potential for life-safety performance may be just seconds of an operation. Having an organization that is continually ready and always seeking improvement will make a difference in these rare incidents. This is one way to discern the good from the great.
Only those interested in measuring their performance can have evidence of their competence. Further, no one else will have any concern so this is something that must be within the culture of the department. You are your own scorekeepers.
There are no magic solutions, and it is hard work to get to great and stay there. It requires great people with talent and great leaders to keep everyone focused on the target. Many departments have comprehensive vision and/or mission statements. Only they can answer if they are pursuing the goals of the organization in a manner that will produce the desired results.
Greatness doesn’t just happen. And you cannot be misled into thinking you are great without meaningful measurements. This is about a department’s commitment and a willingness of the membership to support that commitment.