Thursday, April 28, 2011

Volunteer Fire Departments 2.0 (6 of ?) Organization

This is part 6 of a multi-part series. You should have read the preceding parts: Part One, Part Two, Part ThreePart Four and Part Five before moving onto this one. Today's subject is Organization in the Volunteer Service.
 When someone Volunteers their time to the Fire Department, it SHOULD be understood that it is a two-way street. The person putting up their time is offering it freely, but they maintain certain expectations, and they have every right to do so. The Department therefore, has an obligation to make good and effective use of that donation of time. Nobody would want to see a monetary donation be squandered on trivial purposes, neither should a Department squander the most precious of all donations: TIME.
 Every Volunteer member deserves to know certain things about their standing in their Department. This may seem to go without saying, but in many Departments, it is not so clear as one might expect. Over time, we tend to take this 'donation of time' for granted and waste quite a bit of that time.
 Everybody deserves to know where they stand, what is expected of them, what opportunities are open to them, and what they can expect from the Organization. With this in mind, it becomes very important for each Department to be properly organized. This means they will have a clear set of operating guidelines where members can look up information they lack. Everything regarding the operation of that Department should be written down (see the post on Communications).
 Fire Departments have always been considered a para-military type of organization and as such have a 'chain of command'. Departments I have seen that function well will rely on this chain of command as second nature, there is never a question of who you need to speak with when you have a question, concern or complaint. Departments who allow their members to work around this system undermine themselves without even realizing what they are doing. Why would a new member go the his Lt. when he knows the Chief can and will always fix his problems for him right away? Does that Chief realize he just shot himself in the foot? Probably not. But he did, and at the same time he undermined the authority of all HIS line Officers. So presenting a proper and formal Organization is important, but making that structure a way of life takes everyone's effort and participation.
 This may seem like a simple and short point, but think for a minute about every transgression you have seen that subverted your organization's structure and then think about the effect it had on morale and cohesiveness. Every slip in that structure makes a crack in the wall, and eventually the wall comes down from it's own weight. So having a good Organization and having everybody work within that system only makes you stronger. If the system does not allow for proper operations, change the system, don't work around it, FIX IT. All those little adjustments add up over time. Eventually, you will have a solid working system.Don't forget to include your disciplinary system in that structure. People need to know where the lines are and what can be expected when they cross that line.
 At this point in the series, some of the post subjects are beginning to overlap with others, which just shows how it all ties together. Is it no small part of having a good organization that you have tied in your training, communications, and leadership to this structure. It all goes hand in hand. The most impressive Volunteer Departments I have seen really have their act together on this score. They have things clearly organized and even if something falls through the cracks, it eventually gets covered BECAUSE there is such a good method of Organization in place. Problems and holes become apparent much more quickly in a good organization
 The best practices I have seen in this area are hard to find in most Departments because it is so deeply embedded in the culture. It is all tied together by the structure and the fact that there is a well defined organization is often overlooked or hidden.
 Good Organization provides for sharing the load. Time is important to volunteers and when a Department demands too much of what individuals have available, those individuals become burned up and eventually fade away. having folks that serve on only a few committees or assignments makes it easier on everyone instead of having just a few do all the work. It also helps to admit, when necessary, that a Department CAN"T always do EVERYTHING and they may have to let some things slide. Fund raising or  parade participation may have to take a back seat until people volunteer for those positions.
 The point here is this: The better you Organize your Department, the easier things go for everyone. If you have things clearly defined so that members can answer their own questions, you have given every member the power to help the Department grow, survive, and thrive.

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