Passing the torch: How to write a fire service succession plan

Ensure the continued success of MIH/CP programs by developing a personal succession plan for your successor


What tips do you have for succession planning? Share them in the comments below.

Last year, I stepped down as the coordinator of my department’s mobile integrated healthcare (MIH) program.

I was proud of what I had accomplished, having secured contracts to provide follow-up visits for two major healthcare systems. But I was mentally exhausted and ready to get back to doing what brought me to the fire service in the first place: running 911 calls.

Letting go of the program after three years was not an easy thing to do. For starters, I was personally connected to the program. It was “my baby,” so I didn’t want my vision for the program to be discarded. And second, no matter what I seemed to accomplish, there always seemed to be loose ends.

A succession plan written for one position may seem like overkill, but for those of us who have been working on the forefront of mobile integrated healthcare and community paramedicine (CP), this should be a must. (Photo/American Ambulance Association)
A succession plan written for one position may seem like overkill, but for those of us who have been working on the forefront of mobile integrated healthcare and community paramedicine (CP), this should be a must. (Photo/American Ambulance Association)

But I knew my opportunity to transfer out was not going to come around again anytime soon. So a few weeks before the big day, I sat down and wrote my own personal succession plan.

What is a succession plan?

Succession plans can be wide-sweeping documents that encompass an entire organization’s plan for the future. Or they can be so specific as to only focusing on a single position within an organization.

A succession plan written for one position may seem like overkill, but for those of us who have been working on the forefront of mobile integrated healthcare and community paramedicine (CP), this should be a must.

Simply put, it places necessary information alongside your own vision for the position.

Being among the first of our kind, we have put our respective visions to the test. Forcing us to adjust our plans from what we wanted to see, to realistic models that can actually work for our communities.

We’re certainly not perfect but for now, we are the experts. Who better to guide the next generation of MIH/CP pioneers within our departments?

This is how I did it. Hopefully it will help you when you write your own.

How to start a succession plan

As with most projects these days, the best place to start is with an internet search for succession plan examples.

There are plenty of free template options, but to keep your plan as brief as possible, I suggest that you do what I did and glean from available examples to build your own.

It’s hard to get started, but once you do, it’ll be even more difficult to decipher what needs to be included and what should be left out.

Keep in mind that what you are writing is not a press release. It will be for internal use only. Be professional, but do not get hung up on formalities. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm the person who reads your plan with unnecessary information.

Keep it brief.

I broke my succession plan into the following sections:

  • Mission statement
  • Timeline/schedule
  • Deadlines/open projects
  • Contacts

Mission statement

I’m a strong believer in mission statements. During the highs and lows of our careers, they remind us of the reason we chose our path in the first place.

Just about every fire department and EMS agency has a mission statement. But rarely do we create ones of our own.

The mission statement for my position was “to decrease the dependency on emergency medical services through patient education, community collaboration and progressive policy change.”

I was focused on much more than home visits with our program. It was important that whoever took the reins understood that there were many different avenues where I believed we could affect change.

And hopefully it could serve as a guide if they ever decided to take the program in a new direction.

Timeline/schedule

Due to limited staffing, I knew there would not be a whole lot of time to train my replacement.

I treated this section as if I were writing a class syllabus. The first step was to list everything I wanted to cover, sort of like a curriculum. Then I went down the list and actually assigned a time and a date to each lesson.

This achieved a few things:

  1. It forced me to decide what was the most important information to pass on
  2. It allowed my successor the chance to prepare for each day
  3. It informed my supervisors a concrete timeline showing the amount of training days I needed for a successful transition.

The schedule also provided me with a deadline. The day I would have to let the program go, for better or worse.

Deadlines/open projects

To ensure that none of our existing partnerships soured, I listed out every known deadline for the upcoming year so they could stay ahead of their respective sunset dates. But I also had done a lot of work on an unrealized comprehensive mental health response model. Even though we never successfully got this leg of our program off the ground, I felt it was a real possibility in the near future.

I briefly summarized my vision of what this program would look like and identified the community leaders who were on board with the idea.

Hopefully, sometime down the road they can circle back and make it a reality.

Contacts

After three years of networking, I had acquired two rubber band-bound stacks of business cards each five inches thick. Had I tried to put all these numbers into a hand-typed list, it would have taken months. But there were a handful of key people that represented different partners around the city that needed to be identified.

Rather than write up an alphabetized list, I categorized my contacts by organization. Within each grouping I identified the point person. That is, I made a note as to who was the person who actually got things done within each organization.

There is nothing worse than waiting for a return phone call from an executive director when their assistant could have helped you out three days earlier.

And as much as I hated to let them go, I left my stacks of business cards in the desk for next guy to flip through in times of need.

You don’t have to wait

You can begin writing your own succession plan the first day of accepting any new position. It can help you educate interns or to train new staff.

Whatever you do with what you learn during your tenure, the worst thing you can do is take it all with you when you go.

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