Applying proactive innovation to future service delivery models

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John M. Buckman III

John M. Buckman III

By John M. Buckman III

Innovation is happening faster now than it ever has in the history of human evolution. It took centuries, then decades, for changes to be proposed and then to reach the general population. Now it can take less than a year or in some cases days. Look at the internet and the changes brought to our lives in some daily. Watch how videos on YouTube can become viral and impact the present and the future.

I recently listened to Dave Carroll speak at the VCOS symposium. Carroll wrote United Breaks Guitars, a protest song that chronicles a real-life experience of how his guitar was broken during a trip on United Airlines in 2008, and the subsequent reaction from the airline. The song, performed by Carroll’s band, Sons of Maxwell, became an immediate YouTube and iTunes sensation.

The fire service is at a critical crossroads in the battle to sustain and improve fire-protection-related services to the public. Similar to Carroll’s experiences with United Airlines’ customer-service department, the fire service has to realize the customer is looking at government services and asking “why?” and “how much?”

The fire service has many proud traditions and, as such, they are hard to crack open for a thorough unbiased analysis. Look at the resistance to ridding the fire service of horse-drawn fire apparatus. The fire service fights change in general. But look at the change at the five-year mark, and most in the fire service will have forgotten why they were against the idea in the first place. In some fire departments, “change occurs one retirement at a time.” We can’t wait that long.

If we are to be successful in the near and distant future, we are going to have become creative. The power of the collective brain never has been more prevalent. Each constituency must come to the table with an open mind to meet the test of the future.

The future will be built by leaders willing to explore the possibility of innovation rather than accept the limitations imposed.

We are going to have to continue to evolve, faster and faster than before. Our service-delivery model will be under attack. We have used a similar model in delivering our service for many decades.

I am not trying to say what the new model might look like, but I do believe if we don’t explore the model and offer possible options to the current model, someone else will develop a model and hand it to us.

It is critical at this juncture in the fire service that we become proactive in controlling our future and the service delivery model we believe is best suitable to meet the needs of our customer.

Researchers spend years creating and developing new technologies, but we give most of the credit to the entrepreneurs who come up with interesting ways to apply those innovations. Innovation really works when engineered by those who know it best.

Fire chiefs, officers, labor officials and elected officials need to become the entrepreneurs of the fire service. Most of that has shaped our fire service of today is a derivative of some smart person exploring the art of the possible, then pushing past it.

Engage, debate and be open to other’s ideas — but realize we will have to do it differently.

John M. Buckman III served as fire chief for 35 years. He now serves as a state fire training director. Buckman has authored numerous articles for fire service journals and has presented seminars throughout the U.S. and Canada. He was FIRE CHIEF’s 1996 Volunteer Chief of the Year. He served as President of International Association of Fire Chiefs in 2001-2002. He was instrumental in assisting in the formation of the International Association of Fire Chief Volunteer and Combination Officers Section as well as the National Fire Academy Alumni Association. The IAFC Volunteer and Combination Officers Section along with Provident Insurance created the John M. Buckman III Leadership Award presented annually at the VCOS Symposium. He received the National Volunteer Fire Council lifetime achievement award in 2013. He is the co-author of the Lessons Learned from Fire-Rescue Leaders, along with Stephen Gower.

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