As we near the presidential election, I would like to discuss politics. Before you stop reading, hear me out. I am not talking about campaigning, partisanship, donkeys, or elephants. I would like you to think about how you can build political support without wrestling in the mud of this campaign season. I do not know of any fire department that gets to write a blank check that will allow it to properly staff and equip its organization. There are others who have control of the resources. These folks are elected by the residents and have the responsibility to establish priorities and direction. As such, they are political by nature. I would like you to consider what can be done to establish the appropriate relationships while remaining apolitical.
As I have traveled around this country and elsewhere, I have found that there are departments that are doing much better than others when it comes to resource allocation. One area of note is the training facilities and resources that are provided. I am always amazed at some of the very high-end training grounds that exist and relate that to the obvious support that the fire service receives in those communities. This is usually the product of some very hard work by individuals who have done great work establishing and maintaining relationships of mutual respect with the policy makers. It is an accumulation of many who have taken the time to work with others and have been in it for the long haul. It is not just the fire chief but most (if not all) of the department working to make sure support exists not only today but well into the future.
In most cases, there is cooperation between labor and management. While mostly referring to unions, it can be an employee group that is not represented. The better the internal relationships in an organization, the better the relationships with those on the outside. Mutual cooperation is essential. There are some simple things that can be done. First and foremost, be nice to everyone and respectful regardless of your personal feelings. The vast majority of people respond much better to those who are nice, and it does not cost anything. It is not always easy with some folks but maintaining composure in tough times works to your benefit. It also contributes to being likeable. And, being likeable is the most important step in developing positive relationships.
Relationships that can promote positive interactions are more likely to achieve better results regarding the support of the department and its needs. While the head of the organization, in this case the chief of department, has the most influence, it is imperative that all members play their roles. People need to show up and take advantage of opportunities to interact. Firefighters of all ranks have stories to tell and can easily engage others. This leads to better relationships that can help in future discussions regarding the needs of the department. Having access and the ability to have candid conversations will lead to topics of interest for the department. The more people in the organization who participate, the greater the reach. Simpl, get out of the office and station and talk to people whenever you can. It is also important to do this when you are not looking for something. Do not get a reputation of only showing up when you need something.
Elections happen every year, and that means change. Fire departments do not need to get too engaged in the formal process. But, they do need to continually work on building strong, long-lasting relationships that will help support their departments and promote a better understanding of the needs of the organizations. As you look around the fire service, you will find the haves and the have-nots. If you look closer, those doing better have worked extremely hard to engage the policy makers who control the resources. I am sure if you look hard enough, you can find exceptions. But if you are working for the betterment of the industry, you will look to those who have set the good example and emulate some of their successes. It is not possible to discuss all of the aspects of politics and relationships in such a short essay, but hopefully your interest will pique, and you will look for more detail and opportunities.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering Editorial Advisory Board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.