By Richard Marinucci
Occasionally when given an opportunity to address a group, whether firefighters or citizens, I try to get the group to realize that there are different levels of service that are provided by fire departments. I will start by getting the group to agree that although every fire department meets some minimum standards that make them fire departments, there are different degrees of performance. It is sort of like getting a group to agree that if you put nine people out on a baseball field they are a team, but there are obviously various degrees of performance.
After getting the group (or sometimes an individual) to agree to this premise I proceed to offer a system of grading that everyone is familiar with. It is the simple grading system most of us had in school—A, B, C (and D, E, and F). It is generally agreed that C is passing, although some of us have skated by with a C-. Based on this, I ask if there was some system to grade fire departments, could we assign a grade from A+ to C-. I know with grade inflation and personal egos and the fact that everyone assumes they are the absolute best that getting a true grade would be nearly impossible. But that is not the point. I am just trying to get agreement that you can have differing qualities of service.
Once we get to this part of the discussion, I then ask a question that has had 100 percent agreement regardless of the group I ask. It is, “If one of your loved ones had to dial 911 and request service, would you want the A team or something less?” I have never had anyone answer anything but the obvious. No one has ever said that they know that they pay low taxes so they are okay with a lesser response. No one ever says that it depends on where they are located. They don’t acknowledge if there is a different expectation based on career, combination, or volunteer.
I realize this is a set up and I have led the group to the conclusion I wanted them to find. It is just an opening to take the discussion a little further. I believe that fire departments and firefighters need to continually improve and motivated to provide the best possible service. If they truly believe this then there must be effort made to work towards the A grade. Other than a few very talented individuals, most people have to work hard to earn an A in their classes. It should be no different in any area of occupation or avocation. If you want to be good at something, you need to commit the effort.
To be an A organization you need to evaluate various elements of your department. Start with your personnel. You need talented individuals. This means that organizations need to invest in a sound selection process that yields the best possible candidates. The right folks are physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to do the job. If an organization takes whoever applies or does not weed out average performers, it cannot attain an A. So, they should not pretend that they have the personnel to deliver the highest quality service.
Once hired, firefighters and organization must make sure that individually and collectively the prepare to be the best. Individuals have a responsibility to maintain their physical, mental, and emotional capabilities. They must commit to training and education. They must participate in repetitive drills to establish muscle memory along with efficient and effective performance. The organization must provide the opportunity to be successful. This includes creating an environment that not only expects great performance but provides the tools to reach the highest level.
The chance to get discussions regarding the fire service to the issue of quality should always be pursued, both inside and outside the organization. Besides the previous brief discussion of personnel, departments must consider the requirement of the best tools, equipment, and apparatus so that an A can be obtained. Leadership, organization, policies, and procedures along with organizational discipline are essential. There is not near enough space in this short column to get into the details, but that should not mean that further discussion is not warranted. If indeed the goal is to have the best possible service available, then organizations and individuals must commit to the mission by putting forth the appropriate effort that would be required to earn an A. After all, everyone wants that level of service if they are on the receiving end. There is value in quality service and an investment by the entire community is beneficial to all. Get the dialog started so that everyone knows the value of having an outstanding service.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. 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 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.
By Richard Marinucci