A letter to the next D.C. Fire-EMS leader

The person to replace retiring Chief Kenneth Ellerbe faces decades of neglect and animosity, but has the power to positively lead a department ripe for change

Dear future CEO of Washington D.C. Fire and EMS Department:

Congratulations on your selection as the next head of a $206 million organization charged with providing comprehensive safety services to the residents, workers and tourists of the District of Columbia. You will be taking the reins of a troubled organization, with well-documented system failures that have resulted in controversy, tension among the staff and leadership, and a lack of confidence from the taxpayers.

The services your department provides range widely. However, one of the most visible is emergency medical service. Long treated as an afterthought within the department, it is in fact the most critical day-to-day service that your customers rely upon.

Yes, it is true that fire suppression is an important service being provided by the company, but staffing and budget allocations don’t seem to reflect that balance.

Truth be told, changes in deployment schemes, flexible staffing models, and adopting the mindset of working smarter, not harder can evolve the department that is not only responsive to the environment, but proactive in its planning and execution of deliverables.

You will be facing decades of neglect and downright animosity among your staff. As a change agent, you will need to demonstrate your willingness to lead with an open mind to staff of all ranks, while channeling funding and political support from your superiors.

Building that level of trust will begin with you, and the leadership staff you bring in. The work will be monumental and, at first, filled with little reward.

Yet your staff is ready for the changes needed to transform the company from an old, tired, tradition-bound department, to one that is proud to display its emblem on its uniforms and apparatus.

By the way, changing logos as often as a New York fashion model is probably not the best use of money or resources — just saying.

About the author

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

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