The Importance of Relationships in the Fire Service
Nicholas Christensen, CFO, MPA
Having positive relationships is critical to the success of any organization. Within the fire service specifically, this is an even more important component to ensure you have your hands around. Positive relationships cannot be built overnight and not all are built the same way. It takes effective leaders that understand that adapting to different personality styles is critical to building up strong relationships, and the days of “treat everyone the same” are no longer a truly effective model to follow.
I feel this primarily breaks down into three core areas:
Relationships with your people – you can be a boss, or be a leader. The primary difference is the way you handle the relationships with your people. You can be the boss and most knowledgeable person in your department, but if you are not approachable, if you intimidate, and do not foster a positive and inviting demeanor that is always willing to help, your technical knowledge really doesn’t matter to anyone but you. Fire service leaders must have strong interpersonal skills that build positive relationships with their people. Over time this builds trust and respect that transforms across the department. This is done with simple things such as approachability, professionalism, and demonstrating that you truly care. After all, as a leader you should! Take the time to get to know your people, about their families, about their hobbies and interests. Build those relationships!
Relationships with your community – we need to remember each and everyday that we represent the badge. We took an oath, a promise, to serve our community and it’s citizens. Building relationships with the community is critical to the overall outlook of your agency. The more involved a department is, the better the relationship with the community will be without question. Public education events, school visits, community outreach events, and career fairs are all excellent platforms for us to champion all the things that we do. Are you the crew that chooses not to interact with the public and more concerned with getting back to the station for lunch? Or are you the crew that stops to show kids in the grocery store parking lot the equipment in your compartments when they walk up to you, let them sit in the seats, and discuss fire safety, regardless of the hour of day. We operate some of the largest, brightest, and loudest vehicles on the road each day. When your community members see you responding to an incident, what do you want them to think of your department? The more involved you are and the better relationships you have with the citizens you serve will greatly impact this outlook.
Relationships with your mutual aid partners – the mutual aid component is becoming a more and more critical model to follow across the country as we are told to operate more with less. As a southern California department, we are heavily involved in the mutual aid system and agencies have found that responses are more effective for their communities when they all work together. Breaking down that “wall” of jurisdictions and focusing on the more important issue of the response is what truly matters to that citizen in distress dialing 911. This of course does not happen overnight, and requires positive relationships to pave the way. Taking the time to meet with leaders of your mutual aid counterparts pays dividends. At the leadership level, these relationships build a partnership that is transparent from top to bottom in all agencies involved. Responding together on emergencies and having relationships with that incident commander, that company officer, that firefighter, only improves the effectiveness of service delivery. When you know your mutual aid partners strengths, what resources they can provide, what they specialize in, and can work together to accomplish the mission without egos or patch pride, without question this is the most effective and intelligent way to operate. The foundation for all of this to take shape is once again, building relationships.
Overall, the days of “come to work, do your job, and treat everyone the same” are fading. Effective leaders in today’s fire service are finding that establishing and maintaining positive relationships is critical to success. Take the time to get to know your people, take the time to interact with the community you serve, and establish positive relationships with your mutual aid partners. This will make your agency a better environment to work in, the public have a more positive outlook on your department, and ensure you have the backing of your mutual aid agencies when it is needed.