Follow by Email

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Trustees; Train Hard or Go Home!

You heard me!
Don’t come here expecting accommodations or special considerations.
You’re a grunt just like the rest of us. Time to pay your dues.
You can’t be on top of your game if you don’t train.
You can’t extend your reach or maximize your effectiveness, unless you are willing to put your blood and sweat into it.
You don’t have the first idea of what I’m talking about, do you?
You were never a firefighter, were you?
Were you “appointed” by your buddies on the city council or the county board?
Oh; you are one of those whose ego has to be fed by “new challenges”.
You don’t mind making decisions that affects other peoples’ lives, as long as you have tort immunity, huh?
I’ll let you in on a little secret, Braveheart; I came up through a department that was run by your kind.
Your playbook, ‘How to Say No to Everything Except Free Meals’ has served you and your cronies well, but it has left your fire departments underfunded, under-prepared, under-manned and has left you ‘under-educated’.
You have spent all of the tax money on real estate for a fire station that will never be built in your lifetime, paid attorney fees for ‘expert’ advice that cost more than the entire fire department was paid for calls last year and the hotel bill at the conference where trustees are supposed to attend seminars while the wives go to ‘luncheons’; except the ‘seminars were hospitality rooms with an open bar.
So; what did you learn? What knuggets (sic) of knowledge did you take back to share?
Let me bring you up to speed.
First of all; if it were up to me, ALL trustees in the state of Illinois (you got to start small) would be elected.
Because, when I ran our department as chief, I had way too many problems with our appointed trustees. None of the three knew anything about firefighter skill sets, the training required, the laws governing fire districts or of the funding needed.
They only knew how to say “NO” and that cost me hundreds of dollars of my own money on top of the taxes that I paid. It wasn’t enough that I volunteered, but I had to pay for the privilege!
Don’t worry, though; there were plenty of firefighters just like me.
The strangle-hold that gripped our department was finally broken in the early 1990’s when we petitioned to have our trustees elected and then elected three, new trustees. The survival skills that we learned as firefighters served us well, in that it taught us to mitigate even the toughest hazards, which in our case was ending the reign of the Good Ole Boys, who wouldn’t raise the tax rate, even though we didn’t have enough turnout gear to outfit everyone, kept the thermostat at the fire station on 50 degrees in the winter, refused to pay for training, went into debt for a new fire station that would house trucks that were all at least 20 years old-plus with no new money saved to buy a new one, paid for bad advice and threaten to kick us off if we dared to question them!
If I sound bitter, I’m not.
I’m BETTER.                                                          
Why is it that, as firefighters, you accept that you may have to risk your lives to serve the public, but are afraid to stand up to tyrannical trustees-mere mortals?
I realized early on that our trustees did not have the same commitment, goals or attitudes of their fire department. They thought that the fire department and fire trustees were somehow separate and “different”. What’s wrong with that picture?
When I go to trustee seminars and conferences, the conversation will usually gravitate to “issues”. You should see the looks on the faces of the other trustees when I tell them that I’m elected. Their eyes will actually cross when I tell them that I was the fire chief and started the petition to have our trustees elected rather than appointed. You see; they threatened me one too many times. It was literally them or me and I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.
And now?
I’m president of the board of trustees and am totally committed to being the best trustee that I can be; just like I was committed to being the best firefighter and chief that I could be. There is that same commitment to training.
And though I don’t always agree with the other trustees or firefighters, they at least know that I will give everything its due regard, research it if I have questions and make an informed decision.
I will continue to learn more about finding additional revenue streams, the ever-changing laws that govern fire protection districts, the newest life-saving equipment that is available, the Freedom of Information Act, the Open Meetings Act and find new ways to attract and to retain firefighters. Money will ALWAYS be spent protecting the firefighters first and that means training and equipment that they need to keep them safe when they are called upon.
And if you are a trustee and you aren’t doing the same, then you need to come into the 21st century, buy a computer with Internet service, a cell phone and learn to lead by example. Lose the entitlement attitude and serve your firefighters and community with the same selfless attitude as your firefighters.
If not, then go home!
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. This article is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-produced in any form.