Hate to break it to you, but fixing the IT problem is up to you, not to the young successors that you will promote next.
People talk about data, information, and analysis all the time. As a fire chief you have to listen, but you may not always feel comfortable with what you’re hearing. You tend to think about how hard it is to analyze data or how little control you have over the vast majority of it. Not to mention that the systems that hold this data (think CAD, Records Management, EPCR) live in other organizations like police departments and communication centers. Let’s face it, the information you need is not only hard to comprehend, but also hard to obtain.
You probably believe that control is the issue here and feel that you have very little control in the communications center as it is. You think about the police chief who is in charge of the communications center, and how the dispatchers seem to be better at cop stuff than at fire stuff, and you think about this in terms of loss of control, which is an impairment.
You need to think about this problem like a firefighter!
I think about control in the context of data and systems integration, and I wish you would think about it like firefighters, not IT guys.
You need to think about control as the achievement of an objective. Think about it like you think about firefighting—you often don’t think you are in charge of fire.
You respect fire; and love it sometimes.
You respect fire; and fear it sometimes.
But when you remember your time on the fire ground, you recall conditions that needed to change but weren’t always under your immediate, total control. And that’s why you were there: to begin with the end in mind. You were focused on fire control and loss prevention. That meant you needed to create a series of strategic, tactical actions that worked together to create the conditions you were after from the beginning.
We approach fires strategically and with the right attitude, so why is it that we throw up our hands and say, “If it wasn’t for the cops, IT, or my CAD vendor, this would be easy and I could get the answers I need in a way I could use them”? I’m sure glad we don’t take that approach and attitude on the fire ground.
Much like firefighting, control of your systems needs to begin with the end goal in mind. It needs to contain a series of actions by your team; focusing on the present moment and the practical tasks to work them into your long-term strategy and achieve the objective you have in mind.
Control of information is not politics; it’s firefighting.
We shouldn’t be lazy or fatalistic; we should be firefighters who get the job done.
What is our legacy going to be?
I realize I’m guilty. I’ve watched fire chiefs over the years in different locations struggle with and value the wrong things. I’ve said—more than once—something like, “Poor guy, since the time he was hatched, we’ve trained him to be a reactive person; to answer the alarm bell whenever it rings.” Then one day we pluck him out of that environment, plop him down at the Chief’s desk and expect him to have success with thinking proactively.
But here’s the thing, I’m being too easy on them. These guys fought fire. They had to manage strategies and tactics at the same time. They were promoted for thinking about leadership, planning, HR, and operating programs; all while learning new programs and skills. So when they became chiefs, they had been through enough that they should be more than capable of creating an objective and managing strategies, tactics, and people. They should be perfectly qualified to shape, control, and utilize crucial information—not just react to it. If they are not accomplishing, it’s not because they aren’t able to, which makes them very much like everyone else. There are a lot of reasons why one succeeds or fails, but the ability to succeed is usually not the key element.
And here is the first, big leadership reflection you need to have:
Will you continue this pattern of doing things like they’ve always been done, or will you change the formula so that you shape control over this process?
You often hear people say the “kids” coming up in the fire service are really great with technology. But if you think about it, those “kids” are the captains, BC’s and chiefs. We are seeing a wave of leadership that has begun to think about the integration and use of data like a tool in the same way they fight fire: with a plan, relentlessly integrating systems, and making everything portable. They have control of the information and they know what to do with it. These are the new chiefs and the rapid promoters. Many of them get where they are because they master their craft—a craft that includes data, analysis, and information.
A challenge: Take a few minutes and think about this and make a few notes. Have you thought about how much the control (or lack of control) you have over data influences in your department? Have you thought about how influential it is to your plans or even what is possible for you? We can help.