"There is a serious danger that fire policy will be developed on the basis of work carried out in the context of the market place rather than being underpinned by research which has been subjected to full process of academic rigour and peer review" Professor D Drysdale (European Vice-Chair, International Association of Fire Safety Sciences) and D T Davis (Chair of the Executive Committee, Institution of Fire Engineers). Fire Engineers Journal 61, 10, 6-7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Howell, M. (1996) Fire service culture, asset of burden?, dissertation for BCC: Moreton in Marsh: The Fire Service College, fitting-in.com

 

A Research Project on Attitudes of

Firefighters and How

Management Style Affects Behaviour

 

Michael Howell

 

Brigade Command Course 2/96

 

 

CONTENTS

 

 

age

 

 

Executive Summary.

 

 

 

Introduction.

 

 

 

Methodology.

 

 

 

Analysis of Culture.

 

 

 

The UK Fire Service.

 

 

 

The Phoenix City Fire Department.

 

 

 

Comparison of Attitudes and Behaviour in Relation to Change,  Equal Opportunities and Training in the U.K. and the U.S.A.

 

 

 

Conclusions and Recommendations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendices

 

 

1.

Questionnaire and Results.

 

 

2.

Article from Fire Magazine - CFO J. Beech.

 

 

3.

Article from Institute of Fire Engineers Journal CFO P. Young.

 

 

4.

“The Big Five” - Phoenix Fire Department Information Leaflet.

 

 

5.

Rules of Conduct - Phoenix Fire Department.

 

 

6.

“The Phoenix Fire Department Way”.

 

 

7.

Equal Opportunities “Statement of Commitment” -Phoenix Fire Department.

 

 

8.

Conclusions and Recommendations from a dissertation of Women in the Fire Service. 

 

 

9.

Examples of Minimum Company Standards - Phoenix Fire Department.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

 

This research project was undertaken to test the hypothesis that the culture of a workforce within a fire service model has a direct impact on attitudes towards change. Analysis was also undertaken to determine if there is a link between culture and attitudes in two further issues: The first is the apparent resistance to women firefighters that exists amongst men and secondly the seemingly high level of dependency  placed on training.

 

Research was undertaken by firstly examining what is meant by culture.  Following this an examination is made to determine the criteria or influences on forming culture.  These findings were used as a basis for comparing the cultures that are formed in bureaucratic and hierarchical organisations with those of apparently successful organisations.  Consideration was then given to the type of structure and management style in existence in U.K. fire brigades and the culture that had been formed within them.  A comparison was then made with the type of culture in existence in the Phoenix Fire Department, Arizona, U.S.A.

 

The research concluded that Phoenix firefighters generally were more relaxed and receptive to change and change programmes.  In contrast, U.K. firefighters appear more suspicious and resistant to change. Where the issue of equality is concerned, and specifically in respect of the attitudes of male firefighters towards women as co-workers the hypothesis was not proven.  Although Phoenix firefighters demonstrated a greater compliance with equal opportunities policy, when it came to the acceptance that women they  a similar lack of commitment, to those expressed by U.K. firefighters.

 

Nor did the analysis prove that there was any significant difference in attitudes towards training.  Whilst there is a marked difference in the actual amount of time spent undertaking training in the two countries, there is still a high level of dependency, in both cultures, for training needs to be identified by managers.  There was evidence that Phoenix firefighters would prefer to spend more time on training than they do currently although it was not established whether this was based on a feeling of inadequacy or lack of competence or whether this reflected a desire to be more actively engaged in a meaningful task.

 

The research concludes that although factors other than culture must play a greater part in forming attitudes towards training and women firefighters, there is nevertheless a number of positive benefits to be derived from looser management control and flatter and more “customer focused” structures. These benefits include the potential for greater involvement of staff in the development of the service, therefore increasing creativity and innovation.

 

                   

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

 

Inevitably, when undertaking a research project such as this, a great deal of help and co-operation from a wide number of sources is vital.  This project is no exception and I am especially grateful to a number of people who have put up with my demands, my questions and even my moods whilst undertaking this assignment.

 

In no particular order, I would like to acknowledge the help, support and guidance given by the following people:

 

Fire Chief Alan Brunacini and Assistant Chief Dennis Compton who welcomed and facilitated this study.  I am also grateful for the fact that they, and many of their colleagues, spoke so openly and frankly despite some probing questions about their personal attitudes and principles.  I would also like to say a special thank you to Firefighter Ray Martinez who hosted my visit.  His tolerance and understanding throughout my stay was truly outstanding and despite having to meet his operational shift obligations at the same time.  Ray’s friendship and good humour made a very interesting study also a very enjoyable one, and provided yet another reminder of just how vast the Fire Service “family” really is. Our shared love of good food also ensured that my stay added a few inches to my waistline, and probably his too.

 

I would like to thank my U.K. colleagues, particularly in Hertfordshire and in Cornwall, who assisted my research with discussions and by completing questionnaires. My observations of their attitudes should not be seen as criticism, but rather as a comment about the way in which we managers have gone about their business in the past. 

 

I benefited greatly from the wisdom of fellow Brigade Command Course students in the compilation of the report, particularly Damien Walker for his patient instruction on the mysteries of word processing and other computer technologies. 

 

I would also like to recognise and acknowledge the guidance given to me by staff at the Fire Service College, particularly Lena Wanford, for her patient feedback. In addition I am extremely grateful to my Technical Assessor Ian ‘Eddie’ Edwards for his guidance and discussion on the subject of our common interest,  equality. I appreciate that the demands made on Ian came at a particularly inconvenient time for both he and his family.

 

My special thanks go to Alison Farrer for her invaluable assistance in the compilation and presentation of this report.

 

Finally, I would like to thank my two Chief Officers for their forbearance: Graham Edwards and my wife Patricia.  Without their patient understanding and endless encouragement, this onerous, though enjoyable task might have been a severe headache.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

The management style and structures within which the British Fire Service is managed has probably been continuously evolving, certainly since the formation of Local Authority Fire Brigades in 1947, and possibly even before.  In the early days of the Services’ life this style was already dictatorial, this was probably exacerbated through and after the 2nd World War, when there were strong links between the Service and the military. The behaviour and culture of personnel within fire brigades is arguably a product of the styles and structures in which they have operated.  The single tier entry system, which allegedly has some advantages, and certainly many supporters, also ensures that intermediate and the most senior officers are also products of the same system and therefore in the main, perpetuate the organisational culture.

 

Recent decades have seen a variety of changes to legislation and national guidance in a number of areas:  Amongst these subjects which have received a great deal of documentation are equal opportunities and training. It can be argued that the progress made  however, is inversely proportional to the amount of interest and writing on these two subjects.

 

In respect of equal opportunities, despite over two decades of equality laws, the U.K. Fire Service still has a relatively low number of women firefighters within its ranks, latest figure show this to be under 1% Her Majesty`s Chief Inspector of Fire Services (HMCIFS) (1995).  Although this number is increasing, there is a still long way to go before workforces are balanced enough to reflect the gender profile of the community and the modern labour market. Perhaps more realistically the target ought to be to have a gender mix and image that reflects a truly equality and fairness based service. The number of high profile cases of harassment against women firefighters have been featured in the press and media in recent years reinforce the current position.  Whilst they may be seen as isolated cases, there is a body of evidence that suggests that these cases are only exceptional in that they expose only some of the problems, but not all.

 

In the second area, although increasing workloads in some areas, notably fire safety, has meant a shift in balance, operational firefighters still spend a considerable amount of time undertaking routine refresher, and new skills, training. Such is the hazardous nature of the operational work, it is a job where continuous learning should occur and training is rightly an extremely important aspect of preparedness.  Nevertheless, it can be argued that training has almost become an obsession within the service.  Minor errors, accidents, injuries, damage to equipment and, at the extreme, fatal consequences, all contribute to quests by national bodies, representative bodies, managers and individuals for training solutions.

 

In the following chapters, an analysis is carried out to determine what is meant by organisational culture and to examine which cultures, if any, are more conducive to successful organisations.  These findings will then be used to consider the culture of the U.K. Fire Service as compared with that of the Phoenix Fire Department, Arizona, U.S.A. and in particular, to examine attitudes in respect of change in general, women firefighters and training. The purpose of the analysis and comparison is to test the hypothesis that  the management style and culture of a workforce influences the behaviour and attitudes in these three issues.


METHODOLOGY

 

 

The research methodology chosen was primarily qualitative, although ultimately hybrid (Bell 1992) since some quantitative and ethnographic methods are utilised to provide supporting evidence. Research began with a literature review to understand and define the subject area and to determine what factors were considered important in developing a culture and whether there is a relationship in the achievement of a successful business culture. Further reading was then undertaken to establish opinion on the influences on culture particularly in a workforce  dominated by one gender. 

 

In respect of the attitudes and behaviour of  firefighters towards change, training and  women firefighters, a series of interviews was conducted and questionnaires completed in Phoenix Fire Department and in two brigades in the UK in order to validate the findings of the literature review. The author changed workplace after the research had begun, this proved to be convenient since it enabled an examination of organisational culture to be undertaken at first hand in two brigades. Further evidence was also obtained by literature review of journals and newspapers to determine whether other practices and experiences were to be found in other brigades in the U.K. on these particular subject areas. 

 

The visit to Phoenix Fire Department lasted 10 days during which time several different fire stations and, in some cases, different watches within fire stations, were examined.  The time spent enabled free discussion with firefighters at different locations and attendance at incidents allowed an examination of service provision at first hand.  Questionnaires were  completed at the various locations. 


Further information was gathered in Phoenix through a series of interviews with key officers and union officials.  These interviews were semi-structured but conducted in a loose and informal manner in order to establish the rapport necessary for an open and honest discussion.  Interviews and discussions were also conducted with trainee and probationary firefighters at the Training Academy and with their instructors. 

 

A visit was also made to the Despatch Centre and, again, interviews and discussions took place.  At various locations, women firefighters were specifically and deliberately singled out for discussion on equal opportunity issues.  Reviews of PFD literature were conducted to gain understanding of how the Department operates and to obtain samples of relevant documents for further analysis and/or inclusion within the appendices.

 

Finally, informal discussions were conducted with a number of officers representing a number of different brigades whilst attending courses at the Fire Service College, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire.  This was undertaken to test attitudes towards organisational structures and management control practices and to gain some reaction to the Phoenix model.

 

With the benefit of hindsight, the hypotheses may have been proven or more objective conclusions may have been drawn if more quantitative analysis had been carried out and if a more detailed questionnaire had been used. It had been expected that more easily identifiable differences in attitudes would have been revealed and that the more progressive management style of PFD would have produced a more positive attitude towards women firefighters. More probing questions with more in depth statistical analysis may have produced a different result. Conversely  it may have equally revealed a more serious and deep rooted resistance. It is also possible that some readers might have been more persuaded by a quantitative argument.

 


ANALYSIS OF CULTURE

 

Introduction

 

Since F. W. Taylor (Taylor 1947) set down his views on divisions of labour and “scientific management” there has been a great deal of interest into what extent, if any, people in organisations can impact on the success, or otherwise, of an organisation.  More recently, industrial and commercial successes of nations such as the United States and the former West Germany have attracted  much scrutiny  particularly on how their relative successes have been achieved.  Perhaps more significantly, the undeniable success experienced in Japan, particularly in the field of electronics, has occupied a great deal of thought on the part of many a writer on this subject.  The Japanese experience is made all the more interesting because of the condition the country found itself in after  the Second World War. 

 

Whilst there is clearly a number of factors contributing to commercial success, such as marketing, the economy, quality, etc., a major area of scrutiny has been the cultures created within organisations in various countries.  This section considers some of this research and the conclusions made on the type of culture more likely to be conducive to commercial success.  In so doing, consideration is also given to different styles of leadership and management and how this factor contributes to the development of  organisational culture.  The differing (in some cases opposing) cultures that exist in the workplace are then considered as a basis for comparison between the UK and USA experiences later in the report.


What is Culture?

To begin with it is necessary to understand what is meant by the term “culture”. Culture has been defined in many ways:  “A unique configuration of norms, values, rituals and beliefs, ...... ways of behaving and so on, that characterise the manner in which groups and individuals combine to get things done” (Eldridge and Cromby 1974).  They go on to say that the distinctiveness of a particular organisation is “manifested in the folklore, laws and in the ideology to which members defer, as well as the strategic choices made by the organisation as a whole”.  It has also been said that the fundamental concept of culture is that it consists of “shared meanings and understandings which influence members’ perceptions of events (organisation and otherwise) and it is out of that filtered perception that meaningful action arises” (Johnson and Gill 1993).

 

Culture has also been described metaphorically (Morgan 1986) from the idea of cultivation and working the land.  Morgan suggests “when we talk about culture we are typically referring to the pattern of development reflected in a society, system of knowledge, ideology, values, laws and day to day ritual”.  He goes on to say more modern application of the word culture is to “signify that different groups of people have different ways of life”.  This definition is helpful and simple and provides the basis for comparing different types of culture, i.e. how a group of people in one company, country or organisation behaves when compared to another.  Comparison alone, however, is of little importance unless a comparison is also made of the different outcomes produced by the different cultures.

 

In this respect probably one of the most famous pieces of research into the behaviour of people is now commonly referred to as “The Hawthorn Experiment” (Mayo 1933).  The main experiment was with a group of female workers in Western Electric Company in Chicago, approximately ten changes to working conditions were made over a five year period and, in each case, productivity increased.  Even when change was made to the original working conditions, which were pretty poor, output still went up.  The behaviour of the workers enabled Mayo to discover what he called the ‘informal organisation’. Equally important was the fact that both the workers and the supervisors felt involved by the process of the experiments and consequently developed a new working pattern. Mayo also believed that where high output and co-operation are established because of a feeling of importance and involvement, the physical conditions of work have very little impact.

 

In their day, the findings of the Hawthorn Experiment were at first perhaps mystifying but subsequently proved to be radical and provided a stimulus and reference point for many other researchers and writers.  Although primarily seen as a study on motivation, it also provides some useful evidence showing how people in groups can behave and, how cultures can be formed.

 

It has been suggested that a key issue in the development of culture is the relationship between leaders or managers and the workforce.  According to Scheine (1980) leaders play a key role in maintaining and transmitting culture.  He says that they do this by a number of mechanisms, e.g. “what they pay attention to, measure and control”.  He goes on to say that this “creates a pattern of basic assumptions” in terms of behaviour within an organisation.  Many of these basic assumptions are developed when the organisation is in a period of change or experiencing something new.  He also says that the way in which an organisation functions and the way that people behave in relation to these basic assumptions is how a culture is formed.

 

Despite this for many Drucker (1954) provided something of a landmark for the management of organisations. He too placed great emphasis on management, and in particular, “management by objectives”.  According to Drucker this objective setting phase “enabled the organisation to develop its most important resource: management”.  Having said this he acknowledged that management by objectives does increase the motivation of managers and also develops their commitment to the organisation, this is obviously an important issue for the people they lead and in turn hope to motivate.  

 

In the much acclaimed book, ‘In Search of Excellence’, Peters and Waterman (1982) in examining what made excellent companies the authors concluded, apparently reluctantly, that all of the successful companies they examined had associated with it a “strong leader who was instrumental in forming the culture of excellence in the early stages of the firms development”. 

 

Another important issue in the development of a culture, particularly in the discussion on  leadership and management is the matter of power and authority.  The structures which can be formed  within an organisation to control power and authority can vary from very bureaucratic and hierarchical to a very loose and flat, some might even say a chaotic structure, at the other end.  According to Weber (1947) authority is exercised in one of three models, these being the “charismatic”, “traditional” and the “rational-legal”.  The later which is dealt with here was seen by him as being the dominant institution in the then, modern society.  He apparently referred to it as being rational because it had specific objectives, that is to say it was a hierarchical structure designed to perform certain functions and legal comes about because authority is exercised through rules and procedures set by managers.  Interestingly, at the time Weber believed the bureaucracy which comes from this system was technically the most efficient.

 

Today however this system is seen more negatively and often as synonymous with inefficient public sector administration. As Lawrence and Lorsch (1967) suggest  the appropriate organisational structure “will depend upon the environmental demands”  and that such a response by an organisation is termed as taking a “contingency” approach. The evolving structure apparently  supersedes any choice for a particular alternative that the organisation may have otherwise had. 

 

Other writers suggest that as a nation Britain’s development since the Industrial Revolution, has been largely in the mould of the classical theory of management Mullins, (1993).  The advocates and practitioners of this theory or style put greater emphasis on organisational structures, hierarchical management, status, duties and responsibilities. This style makes clear separation between the workers’ responsibilities from that of the apparently higher intellectual positions of management.  According to Mullins classical writers such as Fayol and Erwick apparently saw management principles as “a set of rules offering general solutions to common problems of organisation and management”  Rule making in this context therefore also reinforces pluralist cultures in that it separates the rule makers from the rule followers.

 

It seems that some organisations have no choice but to determine a structure to meet the environmental demands, it is possible to link this to an observation by Morgan (1986) who says “.... it is possible to understand the structure, process, culture and even the environment of an organisation in terms of the unconscious defence mechanisms developed by its members to cope with individual and collective anxiety”.  In this context collective, anxiety or even individual anxiety possessed by key persons in authority can  be caused by the demands (or perceived demands) of the people or customers the organisation serves.  Morgan goes on to explain this defensive response as a reaction “when problems that challenge the group’s functioning arise, the group tends to withdraw its energies from task performance and use them to defend itself against the anxieties associated with the new situation”. 

 

Bion (1959) suggests that in anxiety provoking situations such as change, groups tend to revert to one of three basic styles of behaviour, the first being “dependency” where the group believes that it needs a leader who will then resolve the predicament it finds itself in.  This can be a current leader or even a past one, in which case excessive reverence to the past will also form part of the behaviour.  The second is “pairing” where some sort of Messiah figure will emerge to resolve the difficulty, this in itself seems to be another form of dependency.  The third one described by Bion is the “fight/flight” tendency where the group projects its fears and anxieties onto an “enemy”.  This enemy could be the boss, the Government, the environment, but is seen as “them” and “someone who is out to get us”. 

 

This latter concept might even strengthen the group’s feeling, even towards its leaders, provided they are seen as part of the group.  However, by virtue of this pre-occupation with “the enemy” it also tends to distance them from the reality of the situation.  Where reality demands change, then this so called “defence routine” will then act as a powerful resisting force opposed to change.  In such cases the group or the culture response will be to leave things as they are.  Morgan goes on to suggest that out of this process evolves “organisational scapegoats” who serve the function of people within the group to create someone to blame for everything.

 

Stacey (1993) also suggests that the type of culture created by that the bureaucratic management style  in the workforce is often one of “high dependency” and at worst, “learned helplessness”.  He suggests that it can also be confrontational and create low levels of morale and motivation.

The so called high dependency which can be created in bureaucratic organisations particularly on discipline and rules, can also mean that managers spend some of their time carrying on token actions as a cover-up or disguise for lack of real action, e.g. policy statements and procedures written but not enforced.  Frequently, members of the workforce in such organisations will also say things such as “what is management, the Chief, etc. doing about ...........?” thereby fulfilling the persecutory need for someone to blame.

 

 

Summary

It appears that the hierarchical and bureaucratic form of structure and management style is associated with high levels of dependency, resistance to change and for providing a blame culture.  Whilst it can be argued that environmental considerations make a major contribution to style and structure, there is strong evidence that such systems can create cultures which are pre-occupied with defensiveness, perhaps at the expense of progress.  Organisations operating such systems may be seen as traditional and outdated and also unresponsive to the demands for change and improvement. An important feature of the concept of culture is that it is influenced by the behaviour of leaders and managers and the way in which they regard and treat the workforce. These and other issues are considered in the context of successful business organisations in the next section.

 

What makes a successful business?

In contrast to the bureaucratic structures and management styles and the cultures they produce, it is necessary to consider alternatives which may contribute to developing a learning or progressive and developing organisation.  Authors Peters and Waterman undertook a study of 43 major American companies.  The companies were chosen on the basis of their financial achievements and included many household names such as Levi Strauss, IBM, Kodak, Hewlett Packard.  Their research concluded that there were eight key elements or attributes which each of these companies had in common.

 

 

These attributes were identified and advocated as being those which could make for any company to be successful. These attributes include; “ productivity through people” - this refers to the attitude of companies towards their own people or employees.  Companies also follow a sort of family atmosphere. “ autonomy and entrepreneurship” - companies encourage local initiative taking and taking risks; people are empowered to make decisions in their own job areas, failures are not penalised. “Hands on, value driven” - companies place great emphasis on cultural values and beliefs, as a consequence, the leaders in these companies preach their own values and beliefs and convert others to them.  As  a consequence, there is a great deal of harmony and commitment to the organisation or company objective, indeed they exist without question.

 

Others are “a bias for action” - this means companies are more interested in results  than  lengthy  reports.    A continuous improvement  and  dynamic  approach   is  the by-word. “Simple form, thin staff - this means a lean headquarters with greater autonomy in front line or autonomous units.  “Simultaneous loose - tight properties” - this means that although companies exercise a great deal of autonomy and use structures which are fairly loose fitting, at the same time they have tight constraints to work within: normally financial controls or performance outputs.

 

Some of the attributes centre very heavily around ideology and vision.  The significant part of the Peters and Waterman analysis was again, the importance of values, culture and belief and how they play a part in organisational success and in turn impact on how people actually behave in an organisation. It seems that, whereas managers who exercise control through hierarchical structures and bureaucratic management practices can create a situation where employees adopt a dependency on rules: conversely the practice of more relaxed and looser styles of management can liberate a more creative, innovative and involved workforce. Whatever style is in place, Stacey suggests that as the culture which evolves then underpins the management style, a cyclical process can develop which is very hard to break.  Perhaps it needs a particularly critical event or set of circumstances to bring about a break in the cycle.

 

In looking at successful businesses, Stacey also suggests that the strength of both culture and management style within the organisation is further reinforced when personal and organisational values match up or are closely knitted together.  If the values in an organisation are changed - for example because of new priorities or objectives - then a resisting force, either equal or stronger than forces in favour of change, may exist.  Where the resisting force is lower than the driving force, Lewin (1958), then change is possible.  With change programmes can come a shift in values and beliefs and therefore culture can also occur.  A sceptical or cynical workforce, fuelled perhaps by suspicious representatives, can have a key influence on the strength of the resisting force.  This could be a greater problem when change is radical.

 

Other writers have put their weight behind the lobby for developing greater trust and creating a more devolved, enabled and empowered workforce. Peters (1988) advocates involving everyone in everything and the removal of bureaucratic and humiliating conditions. In terms of linking the empowered staff with the common goal of customer care and high quality service, Freemantle (1993) espouses the virtue and value of front-line ownership. Freemantle cites companies such as BMW who have reshaped their operations to give more autonomy to those staff closest to the customer, particularly those who are in a position to resolve  customer difficulties or complaints. According to  Kanter (1984) entrepreneurial organisations innovate at the leading edge of their own known competence. Such companies have an integrative approach built on a culture of pride, reduced layers of hierarchy and greater lateral communication especially on issues such as corporate plans.

 

Further evidence of successful cultures can be found by looking at the Japanese style of management. According to Ouchi (1981) by comparison to many Westernised organisations, Japanese management and therefore culture, is based more on trust. It seems that upward trust as well as downward trust is acknowledged to be a key factor in the productivity and success of many Japanese companies. Ouchi says that “greater subtlety in relationships is  demonstrated by superiors who know the personalities of their staff and can use this knowledge to put together work teams of maximal effectiveness without being hampered by professional or trade union work rigidities”. He goes on to say that “intimacy is shown by the caring, the support and the disciplined unselfishness which make possible an effective social life, even at work”. 

 

Ouchi also makes the important distinction between companies in the West who try to model themselves on the Japanese style, he refers to them as “Theory Z”. This is related to McGregor`s Theory X and Theory Y  and Ouchi refers to American “Z” organisations as having  long term employment but not necessarily life long and is the  case in Japan.  He goes on to suggest that “Z” organisations make many of their decisions on the basis of “whether or not things fit in”.  As a consequence, they create more homogeneous organisations and management groups take a more holistic and egalitarian view of the workforce. 

 

However, Ouchi also suggests that managers tend to look to employ people like themselves to maintain this homogeneous concept.  As a consequence “they tend to be more sexist and racist in recruitment”.  Sexist is also partly based on the long term employment issue, as they see women as being less reliable or committed to long term employment, and racist on the grounds of white being the predominate colour in the existing homogeneous group.  Having said that,  Ouchi also recognises that companies frequently head hunt from Theory Z organisations because they have become renowned for developing a very high proportion of their younger people into successful managers. 

 

Summary

 

If the  analysis of what makes a successful business is correct then the path to being a truly successful organisation is through empowering and enabling the workforce. Emulating the Japanese model may not be without its problems however. Care needs to be taken to ensure that in generating a trusting family type culture, that a narcissistic system is not created. This is even more important in a workforce that is already somewhat stereotypical in terms of gender race or age. This may mean the abandonment  of some established working practices and behaviours. It may also mean giving up sacred cows and traditional icons especially those which are associated with bureaucratic or outdated organisations.

To become more successful and engender creativity and reduce dependency on leaders and prescriptive systems of working, then the adoption of greater trust and openness seems to be a useful starting place. Matching personal and organisational values is also likely to help create a positive and progressive rather than resistant culture.  The next chapter explores the type of culture currently to be found within the UK Fire Service.

 

UK FIRE SERVICE CULTURE

 

The high dependency culture referred to earlier has to some extent examples in the public sector including the Fire Brigade.  The environmental consideration referred to earlier is particularly relevant in this context. The blame culture that exists within modern society means that  public services have learned to protect themselves with hierarchy, bureaucracy and defensiveness.  They frequently function in a world of excessive rules, procedures and policy, and create a culture where the consequential dependency and learned helplessness which is created means that innovation and creativity is largely stifled or considered unnecessary and therefore viewed with suspicion. 

 

Recent evidence suggests that maybe the UK Fire Service is beginning to head in the right direction.  There are examples in a number of brigades that the values and principles advocated in a number of the so called successful businesses, are now being used.  The management and therefore “control” structure in place in Kent Fire Brigade (“Fire” Magazine May, 1994) supported by the Chief Fire Officer’s philosophy, is such an example (Appendix 2).  The association of the development of the organisation with strategic planning, and therefore vision, is also recognised by the Chief Fire Officer in Somerset (I.F.E. Journal May, 1996). (Appendix 3). There are  other examples of action taken, particularly in flattening and de-layering organisations` structures in an attempt to empower and delegate.

 

Some experiences indicate that the UK Fire Service probably still has a long way to go before it makes full use of the skills and abilities of all the people in the organisation.  Breaking down bureaucracies, allowing mistakes, delegating and allowing greater autonomy would all help create this. Having said that, care is needed: Consultation and empowerment can raise expectations and there is nothing more frustrating for a  empowered member of staff than being given autonomy then to have ideas dashed because of insufficient briefing and guidance.  Even worse is where managers espouse philosophy of releasing control but actually practice the reverse behaviour. 

 

This occurred in one brigade which enlisted and empowered the use of working groups to examine specific functions such as the rota systems, fire safety, operations, etc..  The remit was to determine real brigade need within the functions which would contribute to developing the best organisational structure to support those functions.  The result was a clear recommendation for the abolition of Divisions and the introduction of smaller Areas or Districts closer to the customer and which would, in theory, allow greater autonomy for Area Commanders.  When the Management Team for the Brigade met to consider the recommendations, after much soul searching it was decided to remain with the existing Divisional set up.  This caused a great deal of resentment among members of working groups who felt let down and that their ideas had simply been ignored.  Their dissatisfaction was further compounded by the Management decision to remove a particular rank out of the structure.  This suggestion had not appeared in any of the recommendations and it was neither understood nor accepted by the majority of employees.

 

Another brigade undertook a similar review but did in fact have the commitment to pursue the recommendations which came out of the findings. Smaller, semi autonomous business units in the form of an Area structure was the result.  A paring of officer structure also meant a very lean system which, again, was designed to assist autonomy and empowerment.  Area Commanders were selected on the basis of their hunger and quest for such autonomy so that everything was in place for the system to work. However, traditional dependency behaviour on the part of individuals on all levels prevented true empowerment.  As a result, orders and procedures still emanate from the Management Team, particularly in respect of solutions to administrative and control problems which occur at service level, and  key Area officers also continually refer the decision making up the line to senior officers.  

 

Clearly future service demands and increasingly tight budgets will require even greater flair and imagination within brigades. Coming up with new and more efficient and effective working practices will probably be easier to achieve if more employees (not just managers) were engaged in the activity.  It follows that whilst a change in culture at shop floor level may be necessary to meet the challenges of the next century it is probably more important that the management style changes to allow the workforce to make contributions to the development of their organisation and thereby bring about a shift in culture.  Such a change in management style really needs to be an active process rather than just a philosophy, the examples given above demonstrate that an active and continuous process is required if the hearts and minds and the traditional working practices are really going to be changed.

 

It can be seen in these examples that defensiveness often begins with the most senior members of the Service. This is also true on the National scene; when threatened, for example as in the case of The Audit Commission report  “In the Line of Fire”,  the behaviour of the Fire Brigade professional was to decry many of its findings.  This is evident in the reaction to the suggestion that  £millions of savings could be made. In this case even The eminent body, The  Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association (CACFOA), issued numerous statements criticising the Commission for its ill-informed findings.

 

This defensiveness and pre-occupation with tradition and even outdated standards and philosophy exists despite a fairly positive public image and could also be seen as the reaction to a number of other reviews of Fire Service activities over the last 20 years or so.  Holroyd, Cunningham, Adam Smith, Audit Commission, et al have taken it upon themselves to scrutinise and re-scrutinise the inner most workings of the Fire Service perhaps to try to break down what they perceive to be traditional working practices and thinking.  The attractive elements of these reports, such as under-funding are seized upon by Fire Service professionals, whereas those which would  bring about new practices or radical change are frequently opposed or other factors are blamed.

 

There is also examples of traditional, perhaps static or helpless attitudes on the `shop floor`. As a uniformed service with strong historical links with the armed forces, it is not surprising that the Service has developed a high level of formality and discipline.  Practical examples of these concepts include firefighters parading at change of shift, standing to attention and saluting senior Officers and conducting business in a semi-military style.  Typically, new recruits undergo a form of cultural indoctrination where the emphasis is on discipline and obedience.  This conduct is justified on the grounds that high levels of discipline are vital to ensure that orders given at the scene of a fire are obeyed quickly and without question.

 

On fire stations and watches, “rituals” have evolved where there is a high level of repetitive training and routine work, mostly carried out in preparation for emergency operations. Such emergency  work, in reality, represents a fairly small proportion of the use of their time, nevertheless, firefighters pride themselves on their state of preparedness.  When called upon to attend emergency incidents they frequently refer to “good jobs” which normally means that it was a demanding operational situation in which their skills were used or tested well, either collectively or as individuals. Perhaps more significantly when things do not go quite so well, or at the extreme where there is a tragedy in which a firefighter looses their life, the natural and instant reaction is to look for someone or something to blame. 

 

More often than is perhaps necessary the scapegoat is ‘lack of training’. This has been the case in a number of recent incidents where both the Fire Brigades’ Union and the Home Office have issued bulletins advocating changes in training. Whilst it would clearly be irresponsible to ignore gaps in knowledge or skills, it could also be that issuing yet another ‘prescription’ only perpetuates the dependency on someone else to come up with the definitive solution to the particular issue or any number of other situations or circumstances. It may be more effective in some cases to promote greater awareness of the vulnerability and susceptibility of firefighters, to death and injury, rather than default automatically to finding a training solution.

 

Another often referred to element (or ritual) of fire brigade life is humour.  On a fire station, humour is sometimes used  as a resistance to the bureaucratic rules and procedures that exist and also to the routine work that is less appealing and less exciting than being involved in an operational incident.  Humour used as resistance in this way has the additional bonus of providing  “a paternalistic device which provides subordinates with a feeling of belonging to the family” (Pollert 1981).  Joking may transcend general horseplay and may also be seen therefore as group conformity that combines to resist the control mechanisms which are part of the bureaucratic processes.  Although humour also provide an important element of Teamwork, (Freemantle 1993), it can also be seen as a tool to be used  for  conformity, control or importantly  self-differentiation, thus maintaining the group status.

 

The function of firefighters at an emergency incident also relies very heavily on teamwork and the use of combined skills in an effective manner;  failure can be life threatening either to victims of fire or indeed to each other.  At firefighter level, therefore, a great deal of trust is required for the team  to work effectively.  Failure of an individual which threatens the safety of a colleague is seen as a heinous crime and  one that is not easily forgiven. The high level of dependency on each others` skills  creates a strong team spirit.  When this dependency is successfully put to the test at an operational incident, special bonds can be formed which go beyond those normal in other occupational relationships.  These issues also provide a feeling of being different or special - compared to other organisations, jobs or roles. In these circumstances paradoxically the interactive dependence is normally on each other, not on managers.

 

The status that firefighters may have developed is also influenced by other external and internal factors. For example, according to Collinson (1993) “individuals are placed on a hierarchical scale of legitimacy and value to the community ...”.  As an occupation, fire fighting can be seen as an important service, as a result a “group think” (Morgan 1993) has formed whereby the Fire Service as a whole, has elevated its position and status. In so doing, it has developed a group culture and shared identity in which the workforce is seen as  highly valuable perhaps even special. Whatever the reason for this ‘self-differentiation’, Hern Shepherd, et al (1989), it could be said that firefighters have formed a culture that is both dependent on authority but also in which, paradoxically, individuals have a high opinion of themselves.

 

Summary

There would appear to be evidence that some of the apparently negative features of less successful organisations can be found in the Fire Service. Defensiveness exists even at the highest level, where suggestions by outsiders are seen as simply a threat to budget rather than recognised as a call for changes to improve service provision or management.  Managers have built up perhaps less than trusting working relationships by the introduction of rules and controls; sometimes as a defence against external and internal pressure, sometimes just as token actions. When managers do indulge in the practise of trust they either fail to carry through with the outcomes or underestimate the ingrained dependency that contributes to the responses. Firefighters and officers alike possibly see themselves as special or at least doing a special job and resolve  demanding situations by flexibility, team work and improvisation. In contrast to the successful operational dynamics, in the day to day organisational functionality there can be defence against real change, preoccupation with blaming others and a pluralism that perpetuates dependency within the workforce. The family culture is in evidence and control mechanisms used to check or rein in deviants and some elements of the so called ‘Z organisations’ may also be in place in some cases.

 

The next section examines working practices and management styles in The Phoenix Fire Department, Arizona, USA. Following this, evidence of differing attitudes, in the form of responses to questionnaires  obtained in two UK Fire Brigades are compared to those obtained in the US. Further supporting evidence  comes from reports of interviews and discussions. Specific comparisons are also made in attitudes to women firefighters and training to provide evidence  to support or disprove the hypothesis that the culture of the workforce is an influence in these issues.

 

PHOENIX FIRE DEPARTMENT

 

Introduction

 

At the time of writing, Phoenix Fire Department (PFD) is enjoying both a national and an international reputation for being one of the most progressive fire brigades on either side of the Atlantic.  Such is the interest in how the Brigade runs that they have in place an officer assigned to managing visitor programmes.  Although assigned also to operational and command duties, this officer is frequently called upon to manage and host visitors and delegations from departments across the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

 

Phoenix Fire Department did not always enjoy such a positive reputation.  In the early seventies  problems between City Hall and both the Fire and Police culminated in industrial action being threatened by both departments.  Eventually the Fire Department chose not to go on strike and, as a consequence, gained a great deal of respect from the citizens and politicians of the City.  Despite this, internal wrangling had caused a great deal of entrenched pluralism between Management and the Trade Union.  The extent to which this pluralist environment had developed was considered by some as surprising, bearing in mind that the City had at that time an “employment for all” policy. 

 

This significant low period in the history of the Department had a number of root causes.  These have been described as: a very repressive management style, lack of trust, lack of recognition, the political process and lack of investment in the Department. The turning point seems to have been when the opportunity was taken to build on the more positive image which had been generated through not taking industrial action.  The consequence of which was a number of specific actions or developments.

 

The Development of PFD

One of the most important and deliberate actions was that carried out by the Firefighters` Union.  The United Phoenix Firefighters Association (UPFFA), under the leadership of Patrick Cantelme, embarked on a strategy to change the political structure and therefore complexion at City Hall.  Making use of Union muscle and their own political skills, the UPFFA was successful in influencing the change from the previous electoral system to one where nine Councillors were elected to City Hall and whose constituencies were based on representation of the nine geographical districts in the City.  So successful were they in their campaigning that the UPFFA achieved having elected to office, seven of the nine Councillors, that they had backed.  Clearly, a large majority of the Council now had a debt of gratitude to the Firefighters Union.

 

This development occurred around the mid to late seventies, around the same time that the new Fire Chief took up his post.  Chief Alan Brunacini had risen through the ranks in Phoenix and although he had also developed personally within its constraints, he had also fallen victim to the militaristic regime which Phoenix Fire Department had operated under. These two factors: the change programme that followed and the relationship between the Union Leader and the Fire Chief were probably the most important reasons for the progress the Department was to make.

 

There were a number of other influences at the time including something of an internal scandal involving a number of members of the Department and low morale caused by declining wages and conditions. These issues also combined to create disquiet at City Hall.  The City itself was  growing very rapidly and it was clear that the Department needed to shape up to meet the challenges of the future. As the Chief explained, “ if we had stayed the same we would have been OK, but we really needed to stay ahead of the game”.  It appears that a similar realism had evolved within the Union hierarchy and which combined to transcend traditional boundaries between the Union and the Fire Chief.

 

Such was the improvement in the working relationship between the two organisations that progress eventually culminated in the launch of  “relationship by objectives” (RBO) at the end of the 1970`s; a platform  based  on the “management by objectives” philosophy.  This so called “relationship” element further provided a focus for developing partnership working arrangements which would be built on mutual trust and respect between the Union and Management and their respective principal officers.

 

To help start the programme off, Managers and Union representatives gathered for a relationship building seminar at an out of town hotel.  Despite the investment in time and effort, on both sides, the initial get together was not successful.  Several further facilitated get-togethers were necessary before a more open, trusting and supportive relationship began to emerge.

 

An important decision in  building  trust was the establishment of a committee for each of the five functional activities of the Fire Department.  These functional activities referred to Fire Protection, Medical Services, Human Resource Management, Physical Resource Management and Urban Services. These activities are now known as “The Big Five” (Appendix 4) and provide for the strategic planning and direction that PFD is taking.  Each of the five has a management committee which comprises an Assistant Chief Officer and a Union Vice President co-Chair.  As a consequence, all policy and decision making evolves from a joint consultative and working committee with full participation on the part of the Union. This apparent surrender of ultimate power and control is probably the most radical decision made by the Chief and clearly calls for a great deal of trust. The trust, openness and frankness that has since been generated in retrospect appears to be at the heart of the culture which has now evolved. These observations are tested and examined in the documentation of interviews which follow and later in the responses contained in the questionnaires.

 

Interviews

Interviews were conducted with the Fire Chief and a number of Principal and Intermediate Officers.  A loose interview framework was set and designed to be flexible and generate trust and free dialogue.  However, general principles were consistently introduced in each of the discussions.  These were: what were pressures for change? What was the main element on which the future management was built? What are the dangers of the Union having so much power? What stops the Union abusing power?  How significant is the part of the Union President and Fire Chief? Can the Department sustain change when leadership changes? Does the relaxed atmosphere provide a breeding ground for anarchy?  And has the transition brought success?.

Interview with Fire Chief

As suggested earlier the PFD as it is today owes a great deal to the way the relationship between the Chief and Union President developed. It is therefore appropriate to consider how their individual attitudes and values have shaped today’s culture.

 

There are two major factors underpinning the Brunacini style of management.  The first is service delivery and the second is his strong concern for the welfare of his employees.  The significance of these features becomes more relevant later in the report. For his part, the Chief refers to having inherited a Department when he became Chief which had very “negative labour relations”.  He acknowledges that this problem had been in the “in basket” for some time and probably could have stayed there, but he felt it had to be dealt with.  Although this was achieved in partnership with the Union President, the thinking at that time and the style of the Chief are worthy of examination. 

 

A key element of Chief Brunacini`s own earlier personal strategy was to return to school and continue his academic study to “fill in some gaps”  and prepare himself for the role of a senior manager. He believed that the Department had a good base, despite the problems it was still an excellent employer and was enjoying some growth. When he became Chief he possessed what he described as a great deal of  “liberation energy” and refers to the changes as creating a “freed slaves” environment.  Promotion within the Department had previously been based on self defence to give principal officers more control and subordinates even less. He also says that and whilst the Organisation was enjoying growth, generally it was to some extent still traditional and resistant to  change. 

 

Chief Brunacini describes himself as the least political and least power crazed of any  Fire Chief that he knows. He also describes himself as being very operationally focused, particularly in respect of customer care a point that will be referred to again later.  He validates power in what he describes as a descending way;  as a firefighter and therefore as a Fire Chief. He does not consider that he has any external power either in the community or in political processes.

 

Despite this latter point,  Chief Brunacini takes pride in the fact that the Organisation is one of the highest ranked in terms of public standing (this is confirmed through local research).  He also acknowledges that because of the growth that was occurring within the City, the PFD had already overcome some of the inertia and was  “growing to fill the space”. That said,  he believed PFD was not necessarily ready for change and at that time it still delivered service in the traditional way and did so in line with the way that it had been managed for years.  He also points out that the expansion had provided opportunities for promotion which had motivated some  personnel but not all. 

 

A key operating imperative of Chief Brunacini is that he believes one ought to have fun at work. In this respect he also appears to practice what he preaches: when interviewed, Chief Brunacini was wearing training shoes, denim jeans and a rather loud shirt  The atmosphere that pervaded his  offices and headquarters complex, was  relaxed and gave the impression of a “laissez-faire” style of management.  He comes across as fairly laid back about control and power. He admits to being totally opposed to “petty chicken-shit rules”. In response to this remark  it was pointed out to him that his fire station book shelves contained some very weighty tomes covering management practice, standard operating procedures, et al.  He was quick to point out that these were procedures not rules.  He included within the petty rule scenario such issues as work routines, dress codes and oppressive discipline.  He pointed out that the work that people do is what is really important and so is service delivery and customer care; ....“ otherwise it is irrelevant what people are wearing or doing”. 

 

He believes the Fire Service is and should be, an absolutely locally driven service and to achieve this he has deliberately taken and used the capability of workers in PFD to enhance service at all levels. He reinforces this through the  management style and philosophy that he advocates. He talked a great deal about trust and stated that as far as workers are concerned,  “not to trust is too dysfunctional. By this he meant that the organisation becomes so preoccupied with rules and controls that meaningful progress is impossible. Chief Brunacini also believes that things should be kept simple for employees and uncomplicated; not because staff do not understand, but because it fudges the issue.  In support of this the Chief practices straightforward communication. As well as his own personal communication style, a number of internal documents  give testimony to this principle. The  Chief also meets regularly with the Captains  reinforcing  corporate messages first hand.  Officers at station, battalion, and principal levels were all asked whether they felt this action marginalised intermediate Officers, particularly Deputies and Assistant Chief Officers.  None felt that it was a problem, indeed, all felt that it not only achieved its objective but provided a good face to face communication between the Chief and key Officers. 

 

Chief Brunacini was questioned about the very relaxed style of dress and discipline that existed within the Department and whether he feared anarchy.  He quickly countered, saying  that Phoenix firefighters were the most disciplined firefighters on earth when it came to the real issue of service delivery and when doing their job. He did acknowledge that from time to time the system does get out of balance and there is a need for him or his Officers to “become the Boss”.  When this becomes necessary, it is accepted and creates no problems.  If action culminates in formal disciplinary action being taken against a member, this too is accepted “and balance is restored”.  He states that he strongly resists the practice of introducing new rules when the system does get out of balance. Furthermore he doesn’t even believe there is a temptation to do so, either for him or his fellow officers. Evidence to this is provided in a later interview.

 

In respect of control the Chief was also asked if he had any concern about the Union misusing their power to oust him or to further their own particular interests or agenda. His reply was  “Why should I be concerned? ....Why would they do that ? ....In whose interest would it be? The shrug of the shoulders and the somewhat puzzled expression suggested that not only was the Chief unconcerned about such a threat, it was also  seen as an absurd idea.

 

The Chief was also questioned on the relationship between himself and the Union President, Patrick Cantelme, particularly since in other discussions this had frequently been referred to as a “father and son” type relationship. When he spoke Chief Brunacini remained relaxed and objective. He said “Pat cares as much about as PFD and the people in it as I do, so it is easy to work with someone who starts from that position.........I have a great deal of respect for the guy.......yes we argue and disagree and sometimes have to go our own way , but it doesn’t change anything, we both still want to the best for the department and for our people and that’s what matters...... “

 

Finally, the discussion with the Chief focused on the sustainability of Phoenix Fire Departments position and reputation for innovation and creativity when he, or the Union President, or both, retire.  He commented that the regime in any organisation is determined at the middle and at the bottom, not at the top.  “Change of leadership is just another change.  A dynamic organisation can sustain the change and importantly, a change in these areas can be good for the Organisation”.  He believes that the values and culture, and therefore the regime that had been determined both in the middle and the bottom were now so well established that it would take more than a change of leadership of either the Union or the Department to disrupt it.

 

Interview with Union President

An interview was also conducted with the Union President,  Patrick Cantelme.  As with the discussion with the Fire Chief, a semi-structured interview was used in order that the researcher gained the trust of those being interviewed.

 

The Union President (UP) admits that in the late seventies and even into the early eighties there were major splits with Management. He points out  that in 1978 both he and the Fire Chief were appointed and that there were other demands for change going on at the same time: increased demand in service delivery, new roles such as the emergency medical service and paramedic roles and higher expectations on the part of the somewhat dispirited firefighters.  He suggests that if there was a coming together of minds at that time, it was based on the fact that  both he and the Chief were very service and welfare orientated; albeit priorities were addressed from very different angles. 

 

The Union President acknowledged that the Union role in the changes to the political structure had meant that they had become very powerful. Looking back he believed that because they were already developing good working relationships with the Chief prior to that time, the potential for abuse was avoided.  The President points out that because of the power which they had then acquired, the partnership type of working between Union and Management was not really needed by the Union. They considered at that time, however, that it was in their own best interest as well for the benefit to the service they were providing to the community, for them to help create a more cohesive system. 

 

It was pointed out to the Union Leader that by wielding so much power at City Hall they could oust the Fire Chief quite easily.  The President  replied  “but why should we, in whose interest would it be? ......“We have seen that sort of thing go on in other states and nobody gains”. Importantly, the  UP says that when the problems of the late seventies existed the Union  “knew who the enemy was”  and it wasn’t the Chief.  It seems reasonable to suggest therefore that had the Union  seen the Fire Chief in any other light, the relationship and therefore the culture that exists today may never have been born.  He went on to say that because the Fire Chief had come up through the ranks and was well known, they knew they could get along with him - “credibility is very important”.

 

In acknowledging the power and influence that they now have, the Union seems well aware of the dangers of misusing that power.  The President, in referring to the publication of “Big Five” agendas and minutes, said that they are providing a very important communications medium.  He also points out that  the Committees are managed democratically by both sides and that any member of the Union can ask a Union Vice President to agenda an item of business.  The Union President says he does not have to allow this and whilst he would intervene if an item were being placed on the agenda that could be damaging to either the Union or the Service, this is rarely exercised.  The President goes on to suggest  that “the Union has now matured” and recognises the benefit of involvement in the political process and getting on with management.  He states that they recognise the difficulties that lie ahead, particularly with regard to privatisation, tight financial controls and funding, but nevertheless they believe that they are ready for these challenges and pragmatic about the probable outcome.

 

Despite some provocative questions about power bases, personal achievement, ambition and potential for abuse of power, Cantelme remained professional, stoic and patient. It was also interesting to note that during the interview, the UP maintained a similarly relaxed style to that demonstrated by Chief Brunacini.

 

Interviews with other Officers and Union Representatives

In order to validate some of the philosophies and determine whether `what they said was actually what they did`, a number of shorter interviews were conducted at HQ, stations, Union HQ and at the Training Academy. The significant findings have been included here but not attributed personally. Whilst all personnel generously gave of their time and spoke freely, it is not considered appropriate to assign quotes to individuals.

 

In line with some of the findings from meetings with the Fire Chief and Union President, the interviews  conducted with other staff  confirmed or underlined many values that the others espoused.  Reference was made to “too much goofy control in the old days”.  One Officer also suggested that the current management style was not so much relaxed as more relationship orientated.  It was also pointed out that the tight control exercised in the past had created a culture that was in fact opposite to that espoused or desired; “since people rocked the boat more subversively”.

 

A number of people were able to consistently recite key values of the current management and partnership style, these being: Sense of direction and commitment, Leadership - both formal and informal, Trust and caring within the system for people,         Forgiveness - look for balance in the cycle of life, rather than correct through rules and Standards that are acceptable internally.

 

One the point about rules an Officer also anecdotally referred to a case where the then newly appointed Chief, had sent  him a list of new Department rules.  Thinking there were more to follow, the Officer did not respond.  Eventually the Fire Chief rang him and asked if he had got a copy of the rules which  he had sent.  The Officer replied, “I got a document but it only had twenty rules on it so I obviously didn’t get the complete report”.  The Chief advised him that it was the complete document. The Officer questioned whether this was enough, to which the Chief replied  “Why did you want more than twenty rules? You can get to heaven on only ten!”. A copy of these rules is shown at appendix 5 and emphasises the management philosophy of the Fire Chief.

 

In this matter of rules, procedures and control, personnel felt that greater control was being exercised at the present time, than had previously been under the more repressed regime. However the “control” was not necessarily imposed by Management - it was more self imposed or self regulatory. Peer group discipline and the use of informal leaders combine to achieve an alternative and perhaps more effective form of control. A frequently referred to principle was, that acceptable behaviour within the Organisation is defined by the stake holders, not by rules and procedures and not by oppressive management. The focus for acceptable behaviour seems to be the emphasis on mutual respect and customer care, this is dealt with in more detail below.

 

With regard to the use of rules, personnel generally felt that procedures were designed to cover an issue and to be used as a source or resource for reference purposes,  in other words to consult.  As one Officer put it “safe managers simply follow the rules”......”thankfully, we do not have too many of them”.

 

In terms of the sustainability of the  current working environment an important point that was stated, was that the “system is fragile”.  The Officer then stated that if you stop the problem-solving process which thrives on dialogue and interaction, the principles on which the Relationship by Objectives concept is based, could soon fall apart.

 

The philosophy and ideology of the organisation clearly need to be underpinned by  the work, style and priorities of the department and the people in it. The document that sets down  the working practices, methodology and values, therefore behaviour and culture, is dealt with in the next chapter.

 

“The Phoenix Fire Department Way”

 

The enviable reputation that Phoenix Fire Department now enjoys, owes much to the culture which has been generated within the Organisation.  The purpose of this analysis has not been to debate whether or not the reputation is deserved but instead to examine the culture that underpins or perhaps creates this apparent success.

 

As stated earlier, culture is very much a matter of shared values and beliefs.  An important shared belief that now seems to exist in PFD is the apparent pragmatic view that it is in both the Unions and Management’s interest to work together. This principle also exists in the Swedish philosophy, Baglioni and Crouch (1992), which is based on a “peaceful, rational, pragmatic, willingness to foresee the outcome and the impact of the effects of industrial actions”. A principle underlined in that country by the “Saltsjobaden Agreement  1978” which sets down rules for settling negotiation and was specifically designed to avoid the knock-on effect on third parties. The process of setting down the philosophy could be seen as a step towards cementing principles.

In 1992 the values and philosophy  that had emerged within the Phoenix Fire Department, which reflected the culture, was set down, and perhaps cemented, in a document entitled “The Phoenix Fire Department Way”.  This is shown in full at Appendix 6.  Although the document starts out as being a description of current organisational philosophy and practice, it also serves as a benchmark for  employees entering the department.  As a consequence, this document which was “built a piece at a time” now acts as a statement on the behaviour expected of employees, not only for today, but also for the future.

 

Most, if not all the personnel interviewed, agreed that the values advocated in “The Way” were held dear to them. Trying to do the best possible job and have respect for one another was a given in all conversations. All firefighters and officers alike whom the author met were enthusiastic and seemingly well motivated. There were, however, one or two examples where some cynical attitudes or comments were found or made. In the main these views centred around recurring themes such as the direction in which the paramedic service was taking the department. Despite this, experience was that morale in PFD  was high. One indicator of this could be the incidence of sickness. Within the City the PFD sickness levels are the lowest of all City Departments.  Considering the higher levels of physical fitness that are required, this is even more significant.  The latest statistics show that they have a sickness rate on average of five lost duty days, per firefighter, per year.

 

In respect of the self esteem of the workforce, an important development has been the notion of the “specialness” of Phoenix firefighters.  Officers boast that they do not hire firefighters, they hire people who they then help to become Phoenix firefighters.  They also boast that recruit applicants present themselves with high levels of knowledge about the work of the Department, its structure and its services.  Despite the growth economy, with low unemployment, joining the Fire Department appears to be seen as exceptionally prestigious. There is also recognition, including on the part of the Union, that with this specialness comes a responsibility to behave in an acceptable and professional manner both within the Organisation and in dealing with its customers.

 

Whilst “The Way” is largely a philosophical statement it does also give a number of points of guidance to staff and in particular, to managers. Examples can be found in section four; the supervisors role.  It states that  “Positive motivation is the preferred method of guiding members to be effective and more productive. Positive reinforcement, ‘catching someone doing it right’  and citing positive performance as an example for others to follow, have proven to be much more effective than identifying negative behaviour or performance, punishing it, and expecting that to serve as the example from which others are to learn”. It also says “It is important to understand that supervisors are paid to solve problems, and when they don’t, problems get exaggerated”.

 

These two statements give a clear indication of how managers are expected to perform and behave. The combination of the demand for action in problem solving and the emphasis on positive guidance rather than punitive or negative feedback  provides the ingredients  for generating a positive attitude and atmosphere in the workplace. Further endorsement of a people centred attitude comes from another passage in “The Way” which says, “All supervisors, no matter what their level in the Department, are expected to carry out their responsibilities in a considerate, respectful manner”.

 

Summary

What  comes across clearly is that  Phoenix Fire Department has a philosophy based on trust, loose control and openness. There is little if any evidence of a preoccupation with rules as a form of control, indeed the reverse  is true. It does however have high expectations in terms of behaviour and performance, both towards internal customers and service provision. This latter point also provides the goal congruence or common aim that is synonymous with successful businesses. A key element in demonstrating both trust and recognition of individuals` potential contribution is  the shared power with the Union that has been established. It also appears that the use of customers as the focus of the department combined with peer pressure and recognition of the power of informal leadership have enabled a much looser control system being employed by management.

 

Evidence of whether managers are practitioners of these philosophies together with examples of the effects of the management style on attitudes towards change, training and women firefighters, in comparison with that found in the UK, are considered in the next section.

 

 

COMPARISON IN ATTITUDES TOWARDS CHANGE, EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES AND TRAINING IN THE U.K. AND THE U.S.A.

 

Change

From the responses in the questionnaire (appendix 1) it was found that in general, attitudes of firefighters towards change and their managers is clearly very different in the two locations tested. PFD firefighters demonstrate a more relaxed and self determining  style and attitude in a wider range of issues and are more comfortable about change and progress than their UK counterparts. In PFD they also appear more relaxed about working relationships and communications (Q’s 1,2 and 3). In Phoenix firefighters do not appear threatened or intimidated when it comes to asking for further information (Q 4). They also demonstrate more confidence and probably less suspicion about management and being involved in change making and seem to recognise their own value in the process (Q’s 5 6 and 7).

 

PFD firefighters also make fewer criticisms of how their department is managed and seem more supportive of their Chief. In respect of discipline they seem equally cognisant of the need for some controls but not as preoccupied with the symbols and tokens such as rank markings and rules (Q’s 8 and 9). As evidence of their greater belief in self discipline PFD firefighters scored highly on the belief that making mistakes was seen as unacceptable (Q 10). This may be  testimony to the sense of self control that exists but may also be a reflection of the strong sense of customer focus, and for providing a high quality service, that exists in the Department.

 

In the UK  firefighters consistently scored higher in what could be described as traditional issues. Emphasis on discipline and knowing ones place come across as does the pluralism in those responses which examine role and relationship with officers.

 

Women Firefighters - Phoenix

In PFD the Departmental Equal Opportunities Procedure is a simple statement.  It is laid down on one page of A4 and although an integral part of management procedures, it is framed and hung on the wall in every fire station.  A copy is attached at appendix 7.  Analysis of the effectiveness of the equal opportunities policy and practice and, indeed, whether the respect philosophy advocated in “The Way” actually works, centres around  discussions with a number of women firefighters, male firefighters, managers and the response on this subject contained in the questionnaire (Q 13). 

 

There are 50 female firefighters in PFD in a workforce of 1300 firefighters, (just under 4%). Discussion with women firefighters and managers reveals that  problems associated with sexual harassment are apparently non-existent.  Some may see this as meaning there are therefore no problems for women within the workforce, although the reality may be very different. In one interview it was suggested that this statistic simply means that no cases had been reported which,  “is not surprising since we are used to covering up the problems”. Another said  “we have been taught to hide the problems....” and went on to comment that PFD  has not lost a law suit based on harassment and “little will change until it does”. Another woman firefighter suggested that harassment in the form of jibes and put downs “is continuous” and nobody does anything about it. Perhaps the most significant comment on the subject of harassment was made by a woman firefighter who said “there is nothing wrong with the system..... it’s the people who screw it up”.

 

In order to set what could be considered as a few isolated remarks into context, some additional observations are appropriate: The first and probably most important point to make is that none of the women interviewed seemed particularly concerned about treatment they received from their male colleagues. A general atmosphere of pragmatism seemed to exist which is strengthened by a belief that they “can dish it out as well as the men”, whether they should be expected to tolerate such treatment is another matter. The second point is that the general atmosphere observed amongst colleagues on shifts where women formed part of the crew was quite relaxed and no tensions seemed to exist. The values of  “The Way” were very much in evidence during the visit. Mutual respect and concern for the well-being of fellow workers was clearly a common undercurrent.

 

When male firefighters were questioned on the issue of sexual harassment against their female colleagues, a consistent response was that since it would not be tolerated, it was not worth taking the chance.  This response strongly suggests that the male members of the workforce are generally compliant with policy rather than committed to the notion that women can perform the task just the same as men.  The responses in the questionnaire (Q13) reveal that this likely to be the case. Although  there were a significant number of believers that women have an equal part to play in the fire service, there was still was a similar number who at this time are seemingly unconvinced.

 

Changing attitudes on such an emotive subject as equality, obviously takes time, probably generations. It was not possible during the visit to determine whether or not PFD is sitting on an equality time bomb. The fact that there seems to be a general agreement that the existing policy needs to be tighter, may mean that potential problems can be avoided. It is also a matter of further research and ultimately, judgement as to the sustainability of the existing pragmatism or tolerance of women firefighters. Hopefully the current threat of severe sanctions, maybe even dismissal, will act as a control device long enough for policy and practice to be reviewed, amended and reinforced.

 

Women Firefighters - UK

Although some doubts may exist about the sustainability of the ability to keep any potentially serious problems in check in the US, evidence suggests that there is even further to go in the UK. Experience in a number of Brigades in recent years has been of a series of cases where harassment and inequality have led to some major problems, both internally and through the judicial process. More importantly, for every case there is a victim, someone who is harmed in some way  and perhaps even scarred for life. Each case of unfair treatment also further labels the service as a male bastion in which pretenders will not be tolerated: underlining the paradox of the carer who is also a bully.

 

Interviews conducted with British women firefighters by Howell (1994) reveals some alarming experiences, not only in terms of their treatment by peers but also by the officers who women firefighters expect to be supported by and  whom they should be able to rely upon to enforce the policies that are designed to protect them. In this research, Howell identifies a number of key issues which combine to create a resisting force that is opposed to accepting women as co-workers. He also raised a number of important failures on the part of managers to address the problems on the shop floor. A summary of his conclusions and recommendations is shown at appendix 8. However some of the themes are worthy of closer examination:

 

The main behaviour and failings issues which Howell raised can be generally categorised as - a failure to recognise the true value of a diverse workforce,  policy statements that are espoused but not actioned ( which itself discredits the issue ), not providing a code of conduct which embodies commitment to equality as a principle, not initiating  swift  and effective action where abuses occur and a failure to introduce value systems for all firefighters which do not perpetuate gender differences.

 

It would appear that in a number of issues the UK could benefit from implementing some of the practices that are in place in Phoenix. The mutual respect, and value, which appears to exist in the workforce in PFD may be the reason why there is somewhat less opposition to women. There is also a shared view in PFD that abuses of equality will not be tolerated and that they would be quickly and severely dealt with. Whilst the effectiveness of current policy in both locations is questionable, at least in Phoenix there is some recognition that the policy needs to be reviewed and reinforced. Consequently PFD has actioned a number of the issues raised by Howell.  In contrast, in the UK, many senior officers are still of the opinion that either there is no equality problem, or that litigation will not happen to them, or that the Service has already done a great deal and that it should now stop beating itself with a stick.

 

On this latter issue it would appear to be unlikely that any meaningful progress will be made until managers at least wake up to the existence of a real problem. This failure may be in part due to the fact that white males have very little experience of being discriminated against.  As such they have no comprehension of how it might feel to fall victim to some the experiences endured by women and other under-represented groups.

 

An area where there may be some commonality between PFD and the UK is perhaps in the failure to recognise any real benefit in having greater diversity in the staffing profile of fire brigades. It is likely that in both countries compliance with legal and social pressure for change has been the key motivator. As a consequence little thought may have been given to the unique or more plentiful qualities that are possessed by women or how a greater abundance of these attributes might benefit the service.   In this discussion it is common for commentators to refer to the so called softer qualities of the ‘fairer sex’. However, there is a fairly strong body of opinion that suggests that one of the key strengths of women is that they are more process minded than their task orientated, ‘bottom line’, male counterparts. As Helgesen (1990) proposes, in what she describes as the “web of inclusion”, women have a greater sense of being part of what has gone before and of what might follow in the future. She also suggests that women are more relationship orientated and more skilled at creating networks and communicating through them, than the more hierarchical, top down men. Women also create more cohesive and better informed teams than males who are more into the ‘knowledge is power’  mindset.

 

It is not intended to develop this specific argument further since the objective was to test the hypothesis that looser management control was more conducive to creating a positive equality based working environment. Suffice to say here that many of the criticisms directed at the Service in recent years and certainly the thrust of  ‘improvement notices’ served by the Health and Safety Executive, have been aimed at failures or inadequacies in systems or processes. It may well be that a greater propensity of process thinkers within the Service might have prevented some of these shortfalls and may also further liberate the combined creativity of a more involved workforce.

 

Training - Phoenix

During the  visit, the author was given the opportunity to examine training from a number of different angles. At the same time evidence was also gathered to try to determine whether or not the philosophy of the Chief, senior managers and “The Way” were reflected in the attitudes of personnel. Specific activities included visiting and observing training with new recruits and more advanced probationary firefighters,  discussions with Officers at station, battalion and headquarters levels and an examination of current training policy and practice.  Attitudes of firefighters towards training were also examined through the questionnaire, (appendix 1).

 

By comparison to the UK, Phoenix firefighters seem to enjoy a high level of status. The strong emphasis on customer care and the expanding role of the emergency medical service seem to have created a high level of dependency among citizens on their firefighters. This was evident by the observation of, and the frequency with which, members of the public engaged in conversation with Phoenix firefighters in the street. Positive comments were frequently made, many referring to them as “Phoenix’s finest”. Being associated with the image and status of a Phoenix firefighter comes across as being very important. As a consequence, applicants who wish to join come to interview  “very knowledgeable and well prepared”, many have taken the trouble to establish a mentor relationship with a serving firefighter. Accordingly from interviews with instructors they all regard recruits coming into the organisation as being intelligent and highly motivated. They make use of these existing qualities by operating in a relaxed, mentoring, rather than prescriptive, style and thereby practise and promote the principles contained within the “The Way”.

 

New recruits, approximately six weeks into their training, talked freely and casually with the author.  They felt that officers, particularly instructors, practised very supportive methods and they believed that the instructors were there to help them achieve or reach their potential. Recruits were allowed to contribute on how best to achieve a task and enter free discussion on procedures and technical issues.  Evidence of the atmosphere that exists is typified by a recruit’s spontaneous invitation to the author to join them for their barbecue lunch. The invitation was on behalf of all of the course and instructors despite no prior knowledge that they were being visited by an officer from England and with no consultation amongst them.

 

Further anecdotal evidence of a similar attitude was found in a group of probationer firefighters who were at the training academy for interim tests.  After several months assignment to different fire stations they appeared to have lost none of their enthusiasm, nor had any detectable cynicism crept in; their attitude was consistent with that generally found to exist  amongst experienced firefighters, officers and newest recruits alike.

 

The basis for recruit and on-going training is by the achievement of what is referred to as “minimum company standards” MCS`s.  Some examples of the style and format is contained in appendix 9.  These standards cover a wide range of practical and technical skills and knowledge.  In British Fire Service language these might be referred to as minimum competencies.

 

After successful completion of initial recruit training, all firefighters are required, once a year  as a crew/watch/shift,  to attend the Training Academy  for evaluation against minimum company standards. To some extent this can be seen as an audit inspection or evaluation.  A measure of preparedness, competence and therefore acceptability of the individuals in the group  will be based on this evaluation. “Instructors”  for these tests are drawn from the Captain ranks whose normal base is on an operational watch. As well as evaluation, coaching is also an important part of the process and this peer group form of feedback seems to be particularly well received. Those interviewed at the Academy who were being assessed, commented that they were there to learn and improve so that they could do their job better and therefore provide a better service. No anxiety or resentment, about having their performance scrutinised in this way, was found.

Because MCS`s are checked annually interim station/watch training routines as a consequence are flexible and in some cases almost non-existent. The important issue, and the only reason for undertaking watch training or practise, is to ensure that MCS’s are being maintained. The regularity and frequency of practise is therefore determined by the group or individuals` performance.  Discussion with firefighters about the frequency with which they undertook routine training drills at station level was met with the typical response “oh! We don’t do things like that! ”. Providing evidence that firefighters are competent, once a year, is all that is necessary; how it is achieved is, to a large extent, irrelevant. 

 

Periodic thematic training is however provided in addition to meeting MSC`s. These are co-ordinated by districts or battalions and targeted at individuals and stations who need that particular training.  The author attended one such lecture during the visit which was given by a firefighter (paramedic) on signs, symptoms and treatment for heat exhaustion.  Importantly the lecture was being given because it was felt that all those in the audience would at some point find themselves in a situation where this knowledge would be used.  Conversely, if the training was not relevant to a particular crew then they would not have received the training.  An example where this would be the case was  for brush fires: firefighters in the City centre never go to brush fires so they do not receive that sort of training.

 

The attitude and practice in respect of training perhaps further underlines the comments made by the Fire Chief about petty control mechanisms and oppressive management style.  As stated earlier, emphasis is placed on whether firefighters can do their job rather than how  it is achieved. As one Captain put it  “why waste time finding if you can do  things you already know you can do?”  The attitude of firefighters on the frequency of existing training routines, as measured by the questionnaire (Q11), suggests that some may feel that greater time should be devoted to training and could imply that they do not necessarily feel competent.  However although  not tested by the questionnaire enquires on this matter indicated  that it is more likely to be a reflection of boredom or an enthusiasm to practice their skills rather than as a result of a real training need. Since an even greater number felt that training is the best way of maintaining skills (Q 12) it is also possible that this is a reflection of how important being good at one’s job is seen to be.

 

Training - UK

By comparison to the regime in Phoenix the delivery of UK firefighter basic training is extremely regimented and militaristic. There is evidence in some of the more advanced regional training centres that the service is moving away from the conditioning style to one that treats recruits as clients or customers. It is not clear if this has evolved from a recognition of the potential benefits to the service and the individual, or a business imperative driven by the need to sell training to prop up diminishing budgets. Nevertheless there is still a number of basic training centres where the emphasis is on discipline and obedience.

 

Squad drill, numbering, doubling, marching, saluting and standing to attention are included in the Fire Service Manuals and Drill Book. They are also included in most, if not all, syllabi currently in use. Other rituals such as not speaking unless invited to do so, standing to attention for officers, the title Sir and the promotion of the concept of instant obedience (lest they should forget the urgency and precision with which all fires need to be extinguished) also add to the sense of knowing ones place. Such rituals also separate the experienced, the knowledgeable and those with authority, from those who have none of these commodities and are therefore dependent upon those who do.

 

Once basic training is completed, apart from regular doses of new skills, refresher and development training, personnel train regularly on their watch or station. The frequency varies but most brigades’ work routines or policy documents will require periods set aside for practise of skills or improving technical knowledge on an average of at least once in a shift. Some traditionally minded officers in charge will only excuse a day without training if there has been unavoidable operational interference in the programme.

 

The content of these training sessions can also be unimaginative. Despite the preoccupation with ‘realistic training’ in recent years, officers in charge still, through lack of time for preparation or lack of time spent preparing, gravitate to the drill yard for ladder pitching and hose running exercises. Presumably this is also done in an apparent quest for a demonstration of the ‘perfect drill’  which will  hopefully then be repeated in front of a visiting supervisory officer who himself has been conditioned to believe that this is a meaningful performance indicator and an accurate predictor of how effective a crew will perform in a real fire situation. Often the important issue of safety becomes secondary to the achievement of the task with greater emphasis therefore being placed on speed rather than the quality and safety with which the task is completed. An example might be where the donning of a BA set is judged as satisfactory because it was completed in ‘x’ number of seconds, whereas true successful completion would also include ‘y’ in the equation, where ‘y’ = according to best, safe, practice.

 

Perhaps not surprisingly the high dependency culture referred to earlier that exists in some UK Fire Brigades means that training, or management, or both, become the culprit whenever there is a system failure. Such failures can be a loss of life at one extreme or dissatisfaction of an officer at the other. In between there is also a wide range of accidents and injuries from serious to relatively minor. Whichever the reason, training will frequently be reviewed and revised. This revision element will again frequently  be orchestrated at high level, possibly at National level, and will take the form of an edict or command. Although these days, greater use is made of personnel from differing levels in the service, ultimately training needs are determined by managers. Some even go to the extent of writing programmes which dictate the what, where, when and how that training is performed.

 

The attitude of firefighters in the UK to the issue of training, provides an interesting comparison with their US counterparts. On the first point UK firefighters generally felt that they trained too much, whereas in the US there was a tendency towards a desire to train more. There was no evidence, however,  to show that they actually needed more or less. In the issue of determining training needs  there was a somewhat unexpected response from the US: It was found that whilst evidence in a number ways suggested that they were more liberated, involved in determining working practices and very self motivated towards providing a good quality service, there is still a high level of dependency on managers to identify training needs on their behalf. On this point therefore the hypothesis fails.

 

In the UK a similar response was found:. Despite  individual’s responsibilities contained within UK safety laws there is still the high level of dependency that others will determine and prescribe any training requirement. The attempt to separate attitudes on the basis of the culture of the workforce has not been achieved. As suggested the findings in the training need identification process were unexpected. However, when this was discovered it was not known if it was a valid conclusion and whether or not a different behaviour occurs after a training gap has been identified.

 

Summary

In respect of change in general it would appear that firefighters in Phoenix are more pragmatic and less suspicious than their UK counterparts. They also recognise that they as individuals have a valuable part to play in change programmes and enjoy greater levels of trust in their managers.

 

The research found that in respect of the acceptance and treatment of women as co-workers again there was a surprising similarity in attitudes. Whilst there is evidence to suggest that firefighters in Phoenix are more compliant with equality policy than their English colleagues, there is only some  evidence that they are any more committed to the principle that women can equally be competent  and accepted as firefighters. It is also possible that underneath their apparent tolerance of this concept they maybe no less resentful and of the legal requirement that creates the policy and current situation.

The expectation that a more loosely controlled culture would produce a more positive attitude towards women as firefighters was not found, therefore a null hypothesis has resulted. It is contended however that the evidence suggests there is more middle ground opinion in Phoenix which may be an effect of the culture that exists there. Nevertheless it does seem that fire brigades in both locations have still failed to grasp any tangible benefit in

increasing the number of women in their respective departments. Greater focus on the unique skills and style of women could provide more commitment.

 

As well as having very different attitudes in terms of change, firefighters in the UK and the US, also appear to differ on the issue of the frequency with which they undertake training. This, however, may not necessarily be associated with a perception of lower levels of skill. However the hypothesis that levels of dependency, on training needs being identified by ones manager, would be found to be higher in tightly controlled bureaucratic and hierarchical organisations was not the case. It seems that even in a more empowered and loosely controlled workforce there is a high expectation that managers will identify training needs on their behalf,  even if practical evidence suggests that individuals would play more of a part in filling any training gap.

 

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Conclusion

In respect of the acceptance of women as co-workers; the hypothesis that the more liberal management style would be more conducive to a shared commitment to this principle was not proven. There was perhaps slightly less resistance found in Phoenix however, although there was evidence that the workforce may be more compliant on this issue, it seems equally likely to be because of the threat of sanctions against them.

 

Recommendation

Until such time as true commitment to accepting women as equally competent in the role of firefighter evolves, the most effective management strategy would at least be to gain greater compliance. Initially managers themselves have to be champions and advocates of fair recruitment and retention best-practice, at all times.

 

However resistance may be strengthened among male firefighters unless action is based on fairness and respect for all, not just women. In this respect the impact of the behaviour of managers on attitudes of personnel, should not be under-estimated. Caring, sensitive and fair and consistent treatment should be practised by all managers at all times and should not be seen as weak or ineffective management. In reality the effect will be to provide a role model which others will copy. 

 

Conclusion

Whilst there may be slightly less resistance to women in Phoenix there still seems to be a lack of recognition of the potential benefits of increasing the number of women  firefighters in both PFD and the UK.

Recommendation

Greater understanding of the qualities, working styles and thought processes of  women needs to be gained by those (men) who can influence the staffing profile of fire brigades. Once this has been achieved greater awareness of these attributes, together with the promotion of the tangible benefits to be gained in the service, should be undertaken.

 

This action may sound too obvious to have any success and may therefore be dismissed. However it is unlikely to be as simple as it sounds. Overcoming the potentially extremely powerful resisting force amongst existing managers will call for considerable patience and energy. It may even take someone with the vision and personal commitment, within a brigade,  to champion the subject before any significant progress will be made.  

 

Conclusion

In a second  element of the hypothesis, although firefighters in the two countries differ on their view on the issue of the frequency with which they should undertake training, it is not clear whether they have different attitudes on training need. However the hypothesis that higher levels of dependency, on training needs being identified by ones manager, existing in more tightly controlled organisations was not proven. It seems that even in a more empowered and loosely controlled workforce there is a high expectation that managers will identify training needs on their behalf. Practical evidence suggests that individuals in PFD would however play more of a part in filling any training gap identified.

 

Recommendation

Despite the null hypothesis in relation to the organisational culture there is still much to be derived from the practices in use in Phoenix. The minimum competency approach has clearly created a situation where time and effort are not unnecessarily wasted on continuously proving that which is already known. The benefits are clear: more efficient use of time and the opportunity to be more focused on areas of real training need.

 

Conclusion

Hierarchical and bureaucratic organisations generate higher levels of dependency, resistance to change and blame cultures, than more loosely controlled and flatter businesses. Although environmental considerations may contribute to management style  these types of cultures seem to be  pre-occupied with defensiveness which may inhibit progress.  Such organisations are seen as unresponsive to the demands for change and improvement, sometimes with justification. It would appear that some of the apparently negative features of less successful organisations in terms of culture and behaviour exist in the Fire Service.

 

Recommendation

Consideration should be given to the real needs of the Service and then structures and styles should be developed to suit the demand for more progressive organisations. Recognition of the benefits of looser controls in generating a more involved and innovative culture needs to be created.

 

Conclusion

Managers in the Fire Service have built up perhaps less than trusting working relationships; emphasised by the introduction of rules and controls, sometimes as a defence against external and internal pressure, sometimes just as token actions. The culture of a workforce is in turn, influenced by the behaviour of leaders and managers by the way in which they regard and treat personnel.

 

Recommendation

Chief Officers and senior officers need to seriously question their own motives and examine the effects that their style of leadership is having on the culture and attitudes of their workforce. They should also reflect on the real need to introduce new policy and avoid token actions which are not sustained or followed through. Managers should also consider the extent to  which it is necessary to maintain the notion of a “disciplined Service” and therefore the balance of conformity and creativity.

 

Conclusion

The experience of Phoenix is that  keeping rules to a minimum provides a focus for values, priorities and behaviour within the Department. The limited number of rules, backed up by guidance and procedures, enables these principles to be learned, memorised, confirmed and actioned and thereby reinforcing behaviour and culture.

 

Recommendation

Chief Fire Officers should consider redesignating “Brigade Orders” and sift out the unnecessary and over prescriptive documents. Consideration should also be given to creating a looser regime of procedural documents to enable key operating principles to be clearly understood.

 

Conclusion

There are a number of examples of good modern management practice which emphasise  the strategic theme and structures and styles designed to provide more opportunities to involve staff in the development of some UK Fire Brigades.

 

Recommendation

Consideration should be given to the effectiveness of the cultures being developed in Brigades such as Kent and Somerset and that reported on in Phoenix Fire Department. Determination should then be made of the mechanisms that need to be put in place in individual brigades to create  less pluralistic and dependent cultures and in which greater trust is developed.

 

Conclusion

The pragmatic principle that it is in both the Unions and Management’s interest to work together, is reinforced  when there is a common focus. In Phoenix the focus is provided by a mutual respect within the workforce and the strong belief in customer care and service provision. This also provides “super-ordinate” and binding goals. The culture and management style within PFD is further reinforced because personal and organisational values are well matched.

 

Recommendation

Management, representative bodies and individual employees need to re-focus on their purpose. The common denominator ought to be providing the best possible service that matches the customer need: This means at the right time, in the right place, and at the right price. The internal disharmony caused by suspicion, lack of trust and the continuous need to deliver within tightening budgets is dysfunctional and needs to be put in context if a unitrist, rather pluralist environment is to be achieved.

 

The importance of strategic planning and the involvement of personnel from all levels in the process, in providing direction and focus, should be recognised. This calls for a more sophisticated approach to business planning which utilises a wider range of inputs and also links to personal appraisal and action planning of key members of staff.

 

Conclusion

Documents that set down core values such as “The Phoenix Fire Department Way” can play an important part in influencing behaviour.

 

Recommendation

Chief Officers should employ statements of expected behaviour but should exercise care to ensure that the message is reinforced and not discredited by lack of commitment or action.

Conclusion

Although firefighters and officers alike possibly see themselves as special or at least doing a special job and resolve  demanding situations by flexibility, team work and improvisation, they also resort to high levels of dependency and conformity in day to day organisational function. The family culture is in evidence, as are control mechanisms, to check or rein in deviants. Some elements of the so called ‘Z organisations’ may also be in place in the UK fire service particularly those which militate against real acceptance and commitment to non family stereotypes.

 

Recommendation

The high status that is currently enjoyed by firefighters, is an important feature of the culture of the Fire Service and should be maintained or even be improved. Recognition by managers of individual skills and contribution will not only assist this but also provide a transition to a different, although not new, reward and value system. Less critical and negative corrective action, by managers, together with an acceptance of the principle that unimportant errors or mistakes do not always need action,  would also aid the process.

 

In respect of “ the family”, action is clearly necessary to maintain the positive elements of this feature of the Fire Service, whilst at the same time eliminating those practises which perpetuate the stereotypical male and macho image and which exclude new “ family members”. Actions should include active rather than passive equality policies with the emphasis on mutual respect and making any form of bullying unacceptable. Managers’ biggest obstacle in this subject is their own complacency and naiveté and lack of commitment.

 

Conclusion

The trust, openness and frankness that is synonymous with more successful companies may often be espoused or ritualised, but not always practised. Tight controls through petty rules perpetuate and emphasise the lack of trust and create a cyclical process which reinforces behaviour and can create dysfunctionality.

 

Recommendation

Managers simply need to really practice what they preach and not change the rules on a whim,  where delegation has taken place. Clear guidelines, parameters and controls must be communicated if confusion and disappointment is to be avoided.

 

Conclusion

Peer group control mechanisms and the use of informal leaders as experienced in Phoenix can combine to achieve an alternative and perhaps more effective form of control and self discipline than management led systems.

 

Recommendation

Trusting personnel to exercise their own self controls is a critical success factor if the latent talent in the organisation is to be fully utilised. Managers should develop a much lighter touch if they genuinely support the principles of empowerment.

 

Conclusion

Philosophical statements about behaviour, relationships and leadership are more meaningful when they are agreed upon, written down and practised actively by managers and stakeholders.

 

Recommendation

Managers should resist the usual practice of simply writing policy documents and then filing them. Again greater involvement in policy making at all levels, backed up by true commitment and active participation is vital  to avoid discredit to important issues.

 

Conclusion

PFD firefighters demonstrate a more relaxed and self determining  style and attitude in a wider range of issues and are more comfortable about change and progress than their UK counterparts. PFD firefighters are also less critical of how their department is managed and  more supportive of their Chief.

 

Recommendation

Involvement in working groups and user groups will add to feelings of involvement, therefore commitment, to new or change programmes: but only if the conclusions and recommendations are accepted and followed through.  Managers should ensure that terms of reference are made clear, together with information on parameters and constraints. Managers also need to be aware of just how fragile credibility can be. Their behaviour and actions either reinforce or destroy their standing in the eyes of colleagues.

 

Implementation

It is not intended to go into great detail on how best to implement action plans to address the issues raised above, suffice  to say here that probably the single most important element of any implementation strategy will be the commitment. Overcoming organisational and individual defence routines is a separate study entirely but a subject nevertheless, vital for sustained action and success. Principle officers in particular need to reflect seriously on the type of manager they say they are and the type of manager they actually are. Many espouse the science and the art of empowered workforces, but frequently practice the reverse. The same can be said of equality issues: officers again often claim to be “equal opportunities employers” but ignore and even participate in breaches of best practise.

 

Recommended reading, for any officer serious about tackling the issues raised in this study, is Argyris (1993). It is likely that many, if not all of its readers will be able to identify themselves within its pages.

 

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STAFF QUESTIONNAIRE

 

There has been a problem converting this questionnaire and it is being worked on.  In the meantime I have left them as they are because they provide some insight to how the questions were formed. 

 

Please read both statements and indicate which, if any, you agree with.  The further towards a statement that you tick the more strongly you agree with that particular statement.

 

Q1

 

It is easier to discuss work related issues with my Station/Shift Leader.

 

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

I do not find it easy to discuss work with my Station/Shift Leader.

 

 

 

Q2

 

 

I like to see Officers visit my station so that I can express my view on the way the Department/

Brigade is developing.

 

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

There is little benefit in discussing my views with Senior Officers.

 

 

 

 

Q3

 

 

I find it easy to get information about developments in the Brigade.

 

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

Getting information about anything is almost impossible.

 

Q4

 

 

Asking questions provides answers.

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

You never get a straight answer to a simple question in this Brigade.

 

 

 

Q5

 

I am sure that changes are in the long term interest of the Brigade/Department.

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

I think Management are up to something when they keep making all these changes.

 

 

 

 

Q6

 

Involving the workforce in

change programmes is the most effective way.

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

Change should be dealt with formally between Unions and Management.

 

 

 


 

Q7

 

 

We keep changing things in the Brigade/Department and it is not necessary.

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

Change is helpful and keeps the Service up to date and meeting our customer needs.

 

 

 

 

Q8

We need a formal military style of Management and structure.

 

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

Ordering people around is unnecessary, everyone knows their job.

 

 

 

Q9

 

 

Uniform rank markings and labels are important, they help you know where you are in the Organisation.

 

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

Uniform is only necessary for our customers, otherwise it has now place.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Q10

 

Making a mistake is punished and rightly unacceptable.

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

 

It doesn`t matter if you make a mistake in my Department providing that you learn from it.

 


Q11

 

 

 

I feel that we should train more.  It is the best way to improve our skills.

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

I think we train too much.

 

 

Q12

 

 

 

 

 

When training is needed my boss will ensure that I attend the right course.

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

I know what training I need, and I should chose, when, where and how I learn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q13

 

 

 

 

 

I think that women firefighters are a good thing and it will improve the Service.

 

! ! ! ! ! ! !

 

I don`t think that women are really cut out for this job, this is really a man`s job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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