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Does running your department like a business make sense to you?


There seems to be a big push going on that says we should run our fire departments like a business.  I guess there are a few reasons to run your department like a business but there are also a few reason that a fire department shouldn’t run like a business. 

When I think of a successful business I picture the business owner working in the office, he has a secretary, and then out in the factory is a supervisor and a bunch of workers that are working like dogs, all sweaty and tired.  While the workers get tired the owner gets rich. 

Well, maybe not all businesses are run like that, but I think that is how most people view the working world.  In a fire department you have a Fire Chief who usually doesn’t get too involved with the physical aspect of the job, he is more like the business owner.  Company officers are the supervisors, and the firefighters are the sweaty ones that make it all work.  Looks pretty similar to running a business to me.

Once you get past that similarity there aren’t many reasons to run your department like a business. 

We can’t run the fire department like a business because we don’t produce a product.  We do provide a service, but our service calls are not scheduled, and for the most part we don’t collect a fee for our service. Without product or service calls it is very hard for the owner to quantify what the workers do. 

Our schedule doesn’t match any other business, and if you measured the hazards we encounter the pay is way too low. 

The main reason you can’t be successful running the fire department like a business is that we operate more like a family than a business crew.  We live together, eat together, sleep together, and we do incredibly risky things together. 

Businesses are measured by the amount of money they generate, we measure our effectiveness by how well we perform. One of the hardest things is evaluating the performance of a firefighter, or a fire department.  In the fire service there is a lot more that goes into the measurement, it includes things like teamwork, safety, and courage.  The average business owner wouldn’t have a clue on evaluating fireground operation, they would probably be quite puzzled trying to understand how we exist for 24 hours together.  

In the business world we try to do things more efficiently.  If we can complete the job with less manpower we save money and get rewarded. 

That same mindset can get us in trouble in the fire service because cutting corners and trying to do more with less poses some serious safety issues. We cannot reward those that promise to do more with less because they put us at risk. 

The fire service is not a business, it is one of the most unique combinations of individuals you will ever encounter.  You can't run your family like a business,  those same reasons mean it won’t work in the fire station. 

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