Many fire departments around the United States have problems. Let’s face it, times got tough and the fire service felt it. Many underlying issues are starting to show on how bad the fire service was affected. Pay, staffing issues, apparatus shut downs, station closures, and inexperience are some of the major issues that we are facing in today’s fire departments. One of the biggest issues that I feel we tend to overlook is communication. Communication makes the fire department run smoothly. A clear and open line from headquarters staff to line firefighters is key in making sure points get across and information is known.
Communication is everywhere when you look at a fire department. From radio dispatch, to the engine crews’ traffic, it is important for firefighters to know where to go and what to do. Also, information from instructors to firefighters is vital so new techniques and strategies can be implemented. Even the station communication and apparatus reports are important. From one shift to another, passing on information about what took place that previous shift is essential.
Communication has to be imperative form the top to the bottom, but what happens when your fire department communication starts to crumble? That open line from Chief to firefighter can slowly erode, and the fire department will suffer. I recently heard that one fire department can be broken down into several: one department for each shift, and then one department for headquarters staff. For instance, if you work a 24/48 schedule then it could be broken down into four different fire departments; it could go even further if your department has multiple battalions. When every shift or battalion is doing something a different way, and headquarters staff wants it done their way, then there is a communication problem. When that communication starts to fall then morale can change. Morale is the fire department’s engine. This is what drives your fire department forward and continues to keep it going forward with no backward motion. Morale keeps these men and women together in union to serve the greater good of the community. When morale changes, then the ship can start to sink, and when the ship is sinking men and women start to jump off. Those men and women leaving for better opportunities leave that fire department open for inadequate or inexperienced firefighters to move up into positions they may have never been put through or understand. This domino effect of communication issues can put firefighters at risk for injury.
Every firefighter and fire officer (line or headquarters) has to be on the same page when communicating information. Open door policies, emails, strategic plans, training opportunities, and even the "good old" stopping in the stations to check on firefighters’ needs are great ways to communicate from top to bottom. This issue can be a simple fix if it is caught early. It requires no budget, no vote from the council members, and minimal effort from everyone. As we move forward from the tough times this issue can be one that all members of the fire service can improve on. Each member needs to remember that their voice is as important as anyone else's, and that’s what helps the fire department run smoother.