Strategic Planning for an Evolving Profession


The City of Decatur Fire/Rescue department has its first ever Strategic Plan. It took a long time to create because we did not want to have one person sit down and make a plan “just to have one.” Several officers worked with a consultant to learn how to best develop a strategic plan. As the saying goes, we were not given fish, but taught how to fish and get them ourselves. It was an important learning experience as I tend to be impatient and want results quickly. I would have looked at the department and asked, “what do we need, what are we doing wrong, and what are we doing right?” I would have gotten the whole concept backwards. I would have been shortsighted regarding a rapidly changing department and rapidly changing occupation.

A table of officers were instructed to look at the question, “who do we serve?” We started with a mission and vision statement and kept the idea of those we serve in every decision made. The department considered the residents, the city government, and the personnel of the fire department with every step. It took longer than a lot of people expected but the process was done correctly. Now that we have a strategic plan written – the hard part, the implementation, -comes into play. And as we begin to meet with our groups and action item teams, something else occurs to me. The fire department is changing a lot and changing quickly. Some of the currents forcing that change are compensating for years of tradition and lagging behind, in some ways. The other forces are those of the nature of the world we live in today. I realized that if we had a strategic plan years ago it still would have been simpler and longer standing. However, today’s world, technology and communication changes so quickly that it makes for an increase in workload. It demands some of that work be accomplished in less time. While strategic plans are to be reviewed every 3 years, every day we are faced with the challenges of staying current. Blending a traditional and routine/para-military organization with modern technology and concepts into one of the most progressive cities in the nation is tough.

We test hose. We video tape it and upload it to a Facebook page. We change trucks when one engine needs work done. We begin implementing a tracking software system and train personnel how to use it. We go to first grade class rooms. We search for updated prevention and education to show the kids on a large screen. We fight fire. We use the electronic throttle component, the air pack level monitors, the thermal imaging camera, the gas monitor, and maybe a drone. As a department we need to stay trained in some basic skills but because the nature of fire fighting is changing with the times, we also have to learn so many new skills and the use of new technology. Things are changing quickly everywhere and I do not see it slowing down any time soon. Being a firefighter today is different than being a firefighter years ago, but the plan is still somewhat the same, to save lives and property.

Captain Ninetta Violante

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