Departmental excellence comes from a proven action plan, not a high-stakes bet

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a site visit of a department applying for re-accreditation. As a long-term student of the fire service, I’ve always found value in visiting other departments and learning how they operate and seeing what tools and techniques they’ve tried and/or rejected. I’m always amazed by the creative minds and innovative methodologies that make our profession so unique.

This experience was no different. After a quick round of introductions, the fire chief took the floor and expressed his appreciation to his staff for their hard work and dedication in preparation for this day. He followed with a brief description of how he and his staff had worked over the past 5 years to transform the organization into a contemporary department qualified for recognition as an internationally accredited agency.

The chief described their efforts as the fire service “trifecta,” encompassing their top three priorities: training, promotions and operations. Now, I’m new to the Las Vegas area, but even I know that the term trifecta is typically used to describe a bet that successfully predicts the first-, second- and third-place finishers of a horse-race in the exact order.

This trifecta was by no means a bet, but rather a prioritized list of the three areas the department personnel focused on to transform their organization—to ensure national standards were met and best practices were applied to provide the highest quality service for their internal and external customers.

At the time of application, the department faced rapid growth, expanded coverage areas and a growing workforce with a very limited experience base. To ensure consistency, standardization and manageability of the workforce, training became the department’s highest priority. Strong emphasis was placed on putting the right people in training—people who were not only competent in their respective fields, but also carried and projected the right attitude: Training is fun, training is important and above all it’s the required ingredient to achieve personal and organizational success.

Additional emphasis was placed on the promotional process, to produce a formalized system that was not only fair and equitable, but also could be used as a developmental tool for each and every applicant regardless of their promotional ranking. Prerequisite coursework and promotional reading lists were developed to provide applicants with a knowledge base that went beyond their previously tested and operational norms. Innovative methods were employed to standardize the decision-making capabilities of the less experienced applicants and to create consistency for those more seasoned members. Standard operating guidelines were developed and taught using computer-based simulations and nationally recognized standards.

By placing an increased emphasis on training and a professionally developed promotional process, the department rapidly produced competent, capable and qualified promotional candidates who, in turn, achieved the third tier of the chief’s trifecta, higher quality operations. Not surprisingly, these three things combined to allow the department to achieve its goal of re-accreditation.

What about you and your department (company, division, group, etc.)—what’s your trifecta for success? What priorities have you set for your organization and what are the expected rewards upon completion? Are you building an organization for the future or simply taking a chance and hoping to get by?

In today’s struggling economy, it’s the responsibility of all members—from firefighter to chief officer—to ensure we maintain a strong focus on our priorities and that we constantly measure and evaluate our effectiveness. True leaders will use these times to retool their traditional methods and consider applying new priorities to better prepare themselves and their organizations for the future. To simply wait for a turn in the economy is a missed opportunity, an opportunity we can’t afford to let pass us by.

Tough times are unquestionably a test for us all, but they are also times when we should encourage our members to become fiscally responsible yet innovative, to explore new ideas and concepts, to mend relationships that might have been left neglected, to extend a helping hand in hopes the favor will in some way be returned.

Today’s fire service trifecta should not be based on a long shot, the dark horse or a stroke of good luck, but rather a detailed action plan backed with the necessary facts and figures that reduce our potential for failure. Our trifecta should be designed with a vision and a foundation for the future.

In our darkest hours we have suffered many losses, but never once have we failed to rise to greater heights. Today is no different. If we’re going to play the odds, let’s play with the odds in our favor and seek to achieve a winning combination for us all.

Timothy E. Sendelbach is a 23 – year student and educator of the fire & emergency services currently serving as Editor-in-Chief for FireRescue Magazine and President of TES² Training & Education Services. Tim is also the immediate past president of the International Society of Fire Services Instructors. (ISFSI).

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Comment by Timothy Sendelbach on August 3, 2009 at 9:52pm
Lutan - First, my apologies for the delayed reply - I got a little backlogged and was not able to respond as quickly as I had hoped. That said, your comments concerning budget cuts and "the common practice" of cutting training as a means of reducing budget short falls is troubling to say the least. Unfortunately, I don't there's a clear cut solution for this other than to do the best we can and to ensure our operations (strategy/tactics/tasks) reflect our "current" level of training (makin' due on the fire ground is a recipe for disaster - training, staffing, etc.).


Member commitment, training, and professionalism are certainly a formidable trifecta for success and it sounds like your department is well on their way - Kudo's to you!!!

I understand your frustration with those who choose to use the organization as a social opportunity versus the true profession it really is, but remember, 51% is the majority.

I will always be a student - thanks for noticing.

Chief Reason:

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, I concur!!!
we have . that seems to trouble most organizations, budget short falls followed by immediate cuts in training
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on August 1, 2009 at 11:56pm
Yet another thoughtful, insightful article.
Your "trifecta" should be every fire department's mission statement.
Comment by Paul Dudan on July 30, 2009 at 12:34pm
This plan of action is an excellent idea and proved itself in this situation.Based from what i have read this department is a paid organization, but faces similar but also very different needs than a volunteer department in rural New Jersey.A new set of officiers have begun to turn the tables of old and we now drill and train weekly, in addition to new SOP's and operations.Many of our goals to achieve a 'trifecta' would be member commitment, training, and our professionalism.Membership has recently turned around however there are still a few that remain that use the fire service as a social orgainzation rather than being there to train and learn.AS mentioned before, we now train weekly in all areas of our services from firefighting,auto extrication, and wildland.

I like the idea that you list yourself as a student of the fire service.As technology ever changes and new techniques are developed we ALL must stay educated and informed to protect ourself's, our fellow firefighters, and the citizens we serve.

Great Post.
Comment by lutan1 on July 29, 2009 at 7:24am
Timothy, I love the idea of the trifecta that the department has put in place, however I wonder if the trifecta has changed or is likely to change as harsher economic times hit the department?

Unfortunately in both private and public organizations, management are quick to cut training budgets as the first cost saving measurement. So whilst it is the highest priority for this department, and I acknowledge that much more can be done in house, it still costs (wages, consumables, etc) and is often seen as luxury that can be slashed, tightened, stopped or whatever it takes....

A shame, but a fact.

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