Report suggests Maine FD shift to 'high-performance' organization model

An independent analysis of the Lewiston Fire Department suggests modernizing its administrative and promotional structure, expanding training and addressing a less-than-ideal dispatch call time


Andrew Rice
Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

LEWISTON, Maine — An independent analysis of the Fire Department suggests a series of changes, including modernizing its administrative and promotional structure, expanding training and addressing a less-than-ideal dispatch call time.

The 134-page report, presented to the City Council on Tuesday, lists 37 recommendations that could bring sweeping changes to the department if implemented.

The 134-page report lists 37 recommendations that could bring sweeping changes to the department if implemented.
The 134-page report lists 37 recommendations that could bring sweeping changes to the department if implemented.

At its core, the report suggests that the department shift from an "industrial model" of management, with a rigid chain of command, to a "high-performance" organization that better utilizes younger and skilled staff on its roster.

According to the report by the Center for Public Safety Management, the department "is excellent at firefighting but has not adopted other core competencies that modern fire departments perform."

Mayor Mark Cayer said Tuesday that the report is an important step in "bringing our Fire Department into the 21st century."

He added, "When it comes to fighting fires, we have some of the best firefighters in the state," with a housing stock that is difficult to manage. But, he said, "that's never an excuse to keep it the same old way."

City Administrator Denis D'Auteuil said the city contracted with the Center for Public Safety Management "to conduct an operational and administrative analysis" of the Lewiston Fire Department.

He said he's asked Fire Chief Brian Stockdale to develop an implementation and strategic plan for how the recommendations could possibly move forward, which will be presented during initial budget discussions this spring.

Tom Wieczorek, director of the Center for Public Safety Management, told the council Tuesday that his organization conducted what amounts to a "forensic audit" of the department, with a goal of leading to a "better, safer, more efficient fire service."

He said the recommendations "are not mandates." Some organizations embrace it and run, he said, while some resist it.

Wieczorek said following interviews with staff, it's apparent that some are more ready for change than others. He told the council that there was "a great deal of frustration" from younger staff.

As an example, the report states that about one-third of the department embraced EMS and wanted to enhance the department's participation; one-third of the department was neutral on moving to EMS but leaned toward engaging; and one-third liked the system currently used.

"This same delineation seemed to be found on most issues in the department, whether it was communications or other change," it states. "The younger and last hired members often had advanced medical licenses and may have worked for the hospital-based ambulance. They seemed to desire an expansion in services to the community."

The report also recommends that the department expand the training requirements, certifications, and other prerequisites for positions and incorporate the changes into the promotional process.

According to the report, "training for department staff on making the change to a 'high-performance organization' may serve the city and the department well, particularly as older members retire and are replaced by others."

The recommendations also include finding ways to address the high volume of false alarms the department receives and working with its joint dispatch partner Auburn in addressing current dispatch time for fire calls.

Wieczorek said the current 4.6-minute dispatch time for fire calls is roughly three times higher than the national standard. Lewiston dispatch is provided through the joint L-A 911 system with Auburn. He said the longer the call takes to come in, the more precious time is taken away from those responding to the emergency.

"The dispatch center should monitor and correct this deficiency," the report states.

Stockdale said Tuesday that the department plans to utilize the study "as a springboard to make meaningful changes," driven by the city and hopefully feedback from the broader community.

The process will likely include efforts to diversify the ranks at the Fire Department, he said.

Councilor Michel Lajoie, a former Lewiston fire chief, said following the presentation that he wished the analysis had been done a long time ago.

"I'm somewhat disappointed as to where the department is today compared to where it was when I left in 2006," he said.

The full report can be viewed on the city's website at lewistonmaine.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/4522.

[Read next: Unchaining the chain of command: Growing fire department potential with a new model]

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