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How many departments are doing strategic planning ?
And how is it going?

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All fire departments that have been accredited have strategic plans or master plans. I work with several new departments each year that are beginning the process. I also know of many more that have had strategic plans for many years and are continually working to update and improve them. I started working to learn about strategic planning in 1988 and have been learning more ever since. At that time, it was pretty rare to find departments with documents called strategic plans and even rarer to find those that had more than an operational plan that was titled a strategic plan. Today that is much different and I think many departments have very good plans. It is important for each department to develop their own plan that fits their community and identifies their strategic issues. At the same time, all are trying to find a more efficient way to develop them. One of my hopes of this blog is to find out how it is going from those doing their own strategic planning processes. I am always trying to find the next best practice, technic, or information, so I hope many more people jump into the discussion. Everyone is welcome! Mark Wallace
The first step to understand with strategic planning is that is it more about thinking and acting strategically than having a written document. The place I always suggest to departments that don't already have a plan is to focus on understanding the common values of the members of the department. Next is to create a vision of what you would like the department to be, to function like or look like. That is easy to say but often hard to do. You've started on some critical operational issues and plans and you may want to get operational plans and processes in place before you worry about strategic planning. Operational plans are SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented and time-limited. What you are doing so far sounds more operational because you will have concrete results when the projects you have started are in place. It sounds like you have lots to do. I suggest you take one step at a time. Organizational excellence is a marathon, not a sprint. Plus you don't want to be out there doing all of this by yourself. Develop your core team that you can count on and let them help you build the future. In the end, organizational success if about communications among people and building effective relationships while you create the future of your dreams. Good Luck, Mark Wallace
Unfortunately, our department does no strategic planning at all. It is a shame that a career department of 230 members lacks a strategic plan for where we want to be in the future. While we have been making progress with our comunications equipment and proceedures, the department lacks goals for staffing, apparatus and station replacement, training, and a overall vision of where we need to be in the changing world of the fire service. We recently lost 14 positions to budget cuts, and will potentially lose more next year. I maintain that, with strategic planning, we could avoid the reduction in staffing. If we did a needs assessment, and figured out where we are and then decide on where we want to go we would be alot better off. The lack of strategic planning ties into the lack of training (ie. E.F.O.) at the chief officer rank and disregard for NFPA standards, and best practises.
I wish you were unique in losing positions and not having a strategic plan. Departments that are in the survival mode probably need to concentrate on operational plans of what to do next and how to justify next year's budget. I think you are right on about doing a needs assessment to help avoid budget cuts. Unfortunately, the tax revenues that fund fire departments are finite and it is hard to raise more capital or operating expenses. This is where the focus must be on your mandates. What are you mandated to do by Law? What does the organization do that is not mandated to do? You can't legally cut formal mandates without violating the law or regulation. Apply Mazlow's theory of the heirarchy to your FD survival. The economy is tough and will likely remain so for the next 12-18 months. This is the time to ride it out with dignity and forsight. Get lean and mean but also prepare for the up-swing in the economy. Wish I had better answers. We are at an important shift in the fire service. We have 4 generations of people today which is huge. Those at the top that are not keeping up with the rest of the fire service will be passed by over time. Keep pushing for life long learning opportunities. Good Luck, Mark Wallace


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