Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Putting the Trust in Trustee

As some of you know, I became a trustee for our fire district after having a fulfilling, active career as a volunteer firefighter.

I haven’t written many blogs from a trustee’s perspective, because I doubt that there are many trustees in my audience.

Over the years, I have been contacted by many firefighters who were having problems with their governing bodies. I have offered a diverse range of opinions, due to having been on both sides of the fence. I cannot recall a single instance where I was contacted by a trustee for advice.

I am self-effacing as a trustee, because I still have a firefighter’s passion. I still get jacked up when the guys are talking about a recent call.

I go to their training sessions to stay current with the skill sets.

I go to meetings in case they have questions. The “old” trustees didn’t like coming to our meetings and hated answering questions even more than going to meetings.

Though I might look like I am out front; in reality, I don’t get involved unless I am asked or unless there is slow progress towards a resolution.

In other words; I take what they give me.

I had MY time. Now; it’s THEIR time.

I am not, nor will I ever be your typical trustee.

You know the type. The typical trustee has never served on a fire department, but is “good with a check book”.

The typical trustee knows the color of a fire truck, but they know the color of money even better. But, you don’t spend it; you save it.

With the typical trustee, the most often, uttered reply will be, “We don’t have the money for that”. Second on the list will be, “Do you REALLY need that?”

Believe me; I was well-schooled on the “resistance fighters” known as our trustees. The fire department and I, as their leader, was the enemy, because we were always trying to take “their” money.

Though we were constantly denied money for much needed equipment, our trustees wouldn’t apply for grants, they wouldn’t increase the taxing rate, didn’t seek a referendum to increase taxes or look at viable alternative revenue streams, such as charging out-of-district users.

I literally had to take them on in order for our department to respond to calls on the interstate highway that runs through our district. They “got it” once they were told by our attorney that we could be sued and they ALWAYS followed the attorney’s advice-right or wrong.

That was in 1989. In 1990, they finally agreed to out-of-district charges; a flat rate of one hundred dollars.

The acrimony continued until we changed the process appointing them to having them elected.

A new era of hope and change arrived for our department.

Though we still have a dust up from time to time, anyone familiar with the “old days” can tell you how much better it is today.

Dealing with fire district issues as a chief in the “old days” made me better. I became more resourceful, more diplomatic and more determined to improve all aspects of our business; from communication to funding levels.

I did not want the department’s attention diverted from their mission to provide fire protection.

I made them a promise when I became a trustee. It was not an empty promise and I have kept my promise to them and our fire district residents.

When we take a vote, we have enough discussion to have a clear understanding of what we are voting on, so most of the time, the vote is unanimous.

My advice to fire department officers who interact with their fire boards is to remain respectful, diligent, patient and knowledgeable of the laws that govern the fire service.

Yelling only increases the temperature of the room.

You can keep your fire board engaged without them feeling threatened and you can do so without compromising your principles.

Communication is the key and any impediment to good communication must be removed.

There are many legal pitfalls for governing bodies. Fire districts should temper everything that they do with a proper legal review.

Too often, trustees are afraid of legal liabilities and choose to do nothing.

It is just as important for a trustee to continue their education as it is for firefighters.

Trustees who are unwilling to improve their trustee skills are just like firefighters who don’t want to train; NEITHER has any business being a member of their fire department or fire district board of trustees.

In a nutshell; trustees should be leaders too!

TCSS.

The article written by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella is protected by federal copyright law. It cannot be re-produced in any form with the expressed and written permission of the author.
Please visit me at: www.fireemsblogs.com and go to www.chiefreasonart.com.
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