Arlington Professional Fire Fighters
IAFF Local 1329
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  • Don Crowson Questionnaire
    Jun 30, 2010
    Don Crowson

    Arlington, TX Fire Chief Candidate Questionnaire
    1.    Why do you want to be the Fire Chief of the AFD? The fulfillment of a professional career goal involving the City I was born and raised in, along with being a member of an outstanding Fire Department. This is my home and I want to lead the Fire Department that protects it.
    What is your vision for our future?    
    My vision for the Arlington Fire Department’s future is one where:
    ·         AFD is the preeminent Fire Department in the region, providing state of the art services by highly trained members in all areas of emergency response.
    ·         The AFD is seen as an open and caring organization, where its members share a bond of duty, honor and loyalty with one another and with the community.
    ·         AFD is a positive and opportunistic organization, making a noticeable difference in the community it serves.
    What are the top three strengths of AFD? What are the top three challenges for AFD?
    Top Three Strengths:
    1. The members of the Department can achieve anything – we don’t accept failure because      we know we can succeed even in the most difficult situations. 
    2. Depth of experience at all levels of the organization means efficient and expert level performance. It’s one reason why our team is sharp and safe.
    3. Our members are innovative and have a great sense of pride in the abilities of Arlington Fire Department – We lead the rest.
    Top Three Challenges:   
    1. The economy’s impact on the Department and its members. This is a very difficult economy and we’re feeling the impact in Arlington and the Fire Department. We must position the Department wisely for success in these difficult times.   
    2.  Succession planning – institutional knowledge transfer – our history and lessons must be shared. We must prepare our future leaders with the knowledge learned from our past. (115 members are eligible for retirement today)
    3. Diversity – Turning the corner on this important issue with principle and credibility is   needed for the future success of our Department and City.
    2.     What is your role as Fire Chief in obtaining, maintaining, and expanding our compensation, benefits, and overtime? 
    ·         The Fire Chief’s responsibility is to position the organization for opportunity and to propose an “operational” budget reflective of the needs of the organization. 
    ·         The Department’s overtime budget is based on a formula associated with Arlington’s “modified staffing” model -- a model I researched and promulgated in the 1990s. It was adopted by the Department and has been in use ever since. I’ve participated directly in four separate audits with City auditors examining the staffing/overtime model.   As Chief, I’m responsible for keeping Department expenditures within budget by implementing good fiscal practices that meet operational needs.
    ·         Compensation and benefits are recommended by City Management and authorized by City Council.
    3.    How will you incorporate the Leadership of Local 1329 in the Leadership of AFD?
    Local 1329 Leadership will have open line of communication into the office of Fire Chief. There will be direct participation in annual planning sessions with the Leadership team.   Local 1329’s concerns and views on issues impacting the membership and the Department are important and will be heard and considered in decision making.   Labor’s perspective is important and it’s vital that we maintain an open dialogue of candor and respect between Labor and Management, because it’s in the interest of all.
    What is the appropriate role of a Political Action Committee in city government?   
    The PAC typically engages political entities in the interest of the members of Local 1329.   The appropriate role of the PAC is determined by Local 1329, not the Fire Chief.
    4.    What is your plan to address diversity issues?
    I plan to modify the existing hiring process to create opportunity for all members of the community to be eligible to apply for a firefighter position in Arlington. I also intend to encourage direct community recruitment to make sure all segments of our community are aware and engaged in this opportunity.  I’ve provided details of the plan to Local 1329.
    How will you manage two employee Labor Associations? A Fire Chief doesn’t, and shouldn’t, try to “manage” a Labor Organization. He should work with labor to address issues in the interest of the Department. There is one approved representative group for labor in the AFD, the APFFA. That being said, all members of the Department have the right to voice their concerns or issues in a professional manner. This includes members of the Hispanic Firefighter’s Association. They too, have a right to voice their views and concerns, as well any other member of the Department. As Chief, I will provide an open and inclusive communication environment for all members of the Department. I recognize the official status of those acting in an official representative capacity for labor (APFFA).
    5.    What is your plan to address morale issues?
    Morale issues can be broad and complicated, and no matter the solution not everyone will be satisfied with the outcome. Morale issues should be addressed proactively by providing principled and transparent leadership. Consistency and credibility when addressing issues will help meet members’ expectations of a dependable and reliable leadership team. Leaders and members should be open to new ideas and possible solutions to issues as long as they meet credible management principles and are in the interest of the organization and its members.   The key to making all of this work is regular, honest and respectful communication between the leaders and the members of our Department.   I will meet and exceed the “expectations of the Chief” and will hold Department leaders accountable to the “expectations of Department Leaders” as identified in the Department’s “Leadership Contract.
    Give examples of previous morale issues and your solutions. 
    Recently, some Department members voiced concerns over the Department’s FY2011 budget proposals because of incorrect “rumor mill” information moving through the Department by way of the informal communication chain. To address this issue, I communicated directly with Battalion Chiefs about FY2011 proposals and asked them to directly communicate budget proposal information with the membership. I then connected with Local 1329 leadership and discussed with them the FY2011 budget proposals. I then followed that meeting with an email communication to all members of the Department to ensure that every FD member had factual information on FY2011 budget proposals. Getting correct information out through multiple official channels was a way of limiting the impact of “rumor” information in Department that caused unnecessary concern (morale).   You can expect regular and open communications on issues impacting members if I’m selected as Fire Chief.
    Another issue impacting morale is compensation. The Fire Chief has limited ability to impact this issue. What the Fire Chief can do is create opportunity to help members of this Department when and where he can.
    I believe I’ve helped our members on this issue by helping to create secondary overtime opportunities at both Sports Stadiums. These secondary overtime jobs are based on our teams’ professional skill set and training. This is something never afforded to Arlington Firefighters ever in the history of the AFD. Unlike police, firefighters have never had this option in the secondary employment market. Now they do. 
    I’ve received considerable positive feedback from an overwhelming number of members in our Department stating their appreciation for this opportunity. In fact the level of participation by the Department seems to indicate that most of the members do appreciate this new employment opportunity, because for some, it represents additional funding for their families. 
    While this has been a great opportunity for many, there are those that will disagree with this secondary overtime program. Some have disagreed with the initial concept of Special Events and how the Special Events program was implemented. As with any decision or action, there will not be 100% agreement, despite multiple formal communications about the Special Event program. It’s the Chief’s responsibility to do what he can for membership of the Department as well as the City. The leader’s goal should be: to do the most one can do, to benefit as many people as possible, in a principled, credible and cost effective manner. I think we did that with this issue.   
    6.    What is your experience with Mass Gatherings?
    Since 2007, I’ve conducted extensive research on this issue - from multiple NFL and College stadium investigations with team representatives and our public safety counterparts in those cities, to Super Bowl visits, to partnerships with local, state and federal agencies, to direct negotiations with the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers. Our operational model at the Stadiums, represent a best practice model for both the NFL and MLB. On average, I receive a couple of calls a month from other NFL cities’ public safety agencies asking for details on our special event public safety model and for information on our Special Event Ordinance. We are setting the standard in the industry.
    How did you balance operational needs of the gathering with normal daily operational needs? 
    After a 1st year process review, the current model has been modified slightly and will continue forward with adjustments to be made as needed.  Normal services levels in the City are not typically impacted by Special Events except for very unusual or rare circumstances (i.e. a surprise Presidential visit or other unexpected issue). Special Events have provided members with additional money making opportunities at rates reflective of typical FD overtime rates. The objective is to cover all special events with off-duty personnel to lessen the possibility of an impact to normal City operations.  This is the way it occurs 99% of the time except for when unexpected or unusual circumstances occur. The sport teams pay for all special event employee costs.
    7.    How will you build a leadership team? What members of the organization will participate in the leadership team? How will these members be involved in decision-making? 
    The Leadership team will continue in its current form including: Local 1329 representatives, the Fire Chief, Assistant Chiefs, Battalion Chiefs, and the section heads from Prevention, Dispatch and OEM. What we will improve on, is the way and the frequency in which we communicate with one another. We can do better. 
    8.    What are your leadership values? What do you value most? What do you value most about our job? What are your strengths and weaknesses? 
    I think leadership means articulating a bold vision, then focusing and empowering people to achieve amazing things in the interest of the organization. I believe in doing the right things right, accompanied by detailed communication to ensure understanding. Now “understanding” doesn’t always mean “complete agreement” between labor and management. It means accurately understanding the issue involved and allowing opportunities for feedback in order to share alternative perspectives on issues. This model is helpful for organizational stability and morale. The “other side” of issues will be heard and considered by leadership.
    I value: personal responsibility, honesty, integrity, duty, honor, candor, service, professionalism, creativity, initiative, respect and compassion. I have others, but I think you know where I stand.
    What do you value most?  The safety of those I’m charged with leading – there is no higher priority.
    What do you value most about our job? We have the opportunity to help those in need when they need us the most. There is no greater honor than to serve others. We are indeed fortunate to be among the selected few, honored with this privilege.
    What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    My strengths are that I’m personally invested and care about the professionalism and performance of the Arlington Fire Department. I have a significant technical skill set along with an opportunistic and system thinking perspective that I’ve leveraged in the course of my career to progress the interests of the Arlington Fire Department and its members. I’m a very effective leader and budget/program manager. That being said, I still consider Firefighter safety as my number one priority above everything else. It’s the people that make the difference here and I want them to be safe.
    My weaknesses – I’m sometimes a little too passionate about my job and my responsibilities – which means I work on weekends a little too often. Some things can wait… I’m learning.
    As interim Chief, I’m purposely listening and delegating more because that what’s needed in the position of Chief. In other words, different jobs require different leadership approaches in order to be successful. I’m focusing on our strategic direction and organizational positioning while empowering other leaders to manage the tactics and tasks needed to accomplish our goals.
    9.     What is the appropriate balance between fire service tradition and progressive change for our future? 
    The Fire Service traditions of duty, honor and service never go out of style. Respect for our history and our predecessors are important and should always be honored by the Department.
    I also agree with the concept of the customer (the citizens and environmental conditions) helping identify the services we should provide. We must be able to adjust and adapt in order to serve our customers in the best possible way for this Department to succeed. 
    I believe in a “positioning for opportunity” management philosophy and in being prepared to adjust, adapt, and succeed in a changing environment. This approach prepares the Department for all types of “opportunity” and “challenging” situations. We need to acknowledge opportunities and challenges as soon as possible and be prepared to engage them in a way that produces the best possible outcome for all involved.

    David Coatney Questionnaire
    Jun 30, 2010

    Arlington, TX Fire Chief Candidate Questionnaire
    1.    Why do you want to be the Fire Chief of the AFD? What is your vision for our future? What are the top three strengths of AFD? What are the top three challenges for AFD?
    Why do you want to be the Fire Chief? The Arlington Fire Department (AFD) is recognized as a progressive leader in the fire service. I have friends in the surrounding cities of Dallas and Fort Worth who have spoken highly of the AFD and the personnel. When I read about Chief Paulsgrove’s pending retirement, I researched the AFD and found that it was indeed a department committed to community involvement, service, training, and continuous improvement.   These have been my areas of emphasis within the San Antonio Fire Department, and they will continue to be critical objectives for any fire department that I lead.  I am confident that I have the skills to continue advancing the AFD while working together with other stakeholders interested in protecting the firefighters and community of Arlington.  
    What is my vision? Initially, my vision for the AFD is for it to provide excellent community-focused fire and rescue services to Arlington’s residents and visitors. At the same time, though, I would also like to work collaboratively with the department’s stakeholder groups to build and develop a vision statement for the department together. Within the first 100 days of my administration, I would first invite Arlington firefighters to provide feedback on how to improve their department and address community needs, and then, based on firefighter input and working in cooperation with the Department’s stakeholders, we would develop a shared vision for the AFD. 
    What are the top three strengths? Not being a current member of the Arlington Fire Department certainly puts me at a disadvantage when answering this question. However, based on my analysis of the department, I believe the top three strengths of the AFD are (1) it is progressive in approaches to training (i.e., improves the safety of the firefighters and allows them to keep on the cutting edge of technology); (2) it is active in building community relationships (i.e., helps to foster a greater understanding of what the fire department does and increases support from the community when seeking improvements for the department and firefighters); and finally, (3) it is comprised of a group of professional, highly-trained, and dedicated firefighters who want to make a difference in the community where they work and live.
    What are the top three challenges? I believe the top three challenges facing the Arlington Fire Department (AFD) are common to challenges facing many fire departments in the United States right now. Based on my research, I see the top three challenges as (1) addressing budget cuts and economic concerns, (2) increasing diversity, and (3) and firefighter safety. 
    (1)    Economic concerns: In terms of economic concerns, the U.S. has been in an economic downturn recently, and that has impacted thousands of cities, Arlington included. Although some indicators point to a slow move out of the current recession, many cities and departments remain impacted and cautious in their approach to adding new programs. Since the AFD is currently conducting Meet and Confer get-togethers to identify the standards and improvements needed for the firefighters, this will likely be a slow process and one that will require a fire chief who is a skilled arbitrator in balancing the needs of the firefighters with the city’s budgetary constraints. 
    (2)    Increasing diversity: Another challenge facing the AFD is the issue of diversity. I believe that a department should be representative of its community. Based on the information that I have reviewed, the AFD is struggling some with that. Before trying to implement sweeping reform or changes, I feel it is important to first talk with the association and members of the department to gain an understanding of what has been done in the past to address this issue and then identify a logical approach to addressing this issue. 
    (3)    Firefighter safety: Finally, the issue of firefighter safety should always be considered both a priority and a challenge.   Although many departments, including the AFD, already consider safety a priority, many do not continually look at making necessary improvements to ensure that firefighters go home safely at the end of every shift and that they enjoy a long and healthy retirement. I believe that this issue deserves constant attention to ensure that the firefighters remain protected throughout their careers and beyond.
    2.    What is your role as Fire Chief in obtaining, maintaining, and expanding our compensation, benefits, and overtime?
    Typically, the Fire Chief does not get directly involved in the negotiations process; however, that does not mean that he or she should not be involved from the informational point of view – both giving direction and receiving updates. Because of the inherent dangers associated with firefighting, firefighters should be well compensated for the risks that they take on a daily basis. Additionally, firefighters from metropolitan fire departments, such as AFD, should be on par with other similar departments around their jurisdiction and the state. I believe the pay scales in the AFD are a little low in comparison to other departments of similar size and call volume. I would have to expand my research, once becoming the fire chief, to look at the total compensation package, to include regular rate of pay, incentive & certification pay, pension, health care benefits, and available overtime.
    Once that was done, I would have the department’s lead negotiator to give me briefings on past meet and confer agreements, discuss the economic forecast of the city with the Deputy City Manager, and identify what the primary goals of the association are.
    3.    How will you incorporate the Leadership of Local 1329 in the Leadership of AFD? What is the appropriate role of a Political Action Committee in city government?
    I believe that incorporating the leadership of the association in with the leadership of the department is critical to the ongoing growth and success of the AFD. Collaboratively, the firefighters and department become stronger when labor and management work together to accomplish identified goals. This has the dual benefit of serving the community and serving the members. That does not mean that labor and management will always agree; however, mechanisms should be in place to help assuage any disagreement that should arise. In San Antonio we use a Correlating Committee concept. This places the Fire Chief and his senior staff with the Association’s President and select members of his Executive Board. Departmental issues and direction are discussed and decided upon at this level. This information is then passed along to the appropriate personnel or committees for action. I believe this is a good process and one that could be mirrored in the AFD.
    Political Action Committees (PACs) do have their place in city government. There are a variety of ways that PACs can be used or implemented at the local level. It is important to follow any local or state restrictions regarding their use and recognize that the use of a PAC should be selective to focus on the most critical issues that require political support and leverage. A PAC can certainly be a useful advocate of city government initiatives and policies designed to benefit firefighters and their families, and I am certainly supportive of those efforts.
    4.    What is your plan to address diversity issues? How will you manage two employee Labor Associations?
    Before implementing any recommendations to increase diversity within the Arlington Fire Department (AFD), I would conduct a targeted analysis of the city’s and the department’s demographics and then examine the department’s recruiting methodologies and current screening processes. The current demographics of the city and department have to be broken down into the actual number of eligible candidates for employment with the Arlington Fire Department. This analysis will reveal if there are adequate numbers of potential applicants living in the community or if additional recruiting efforts are required outside of the city. This analysis will also provide a clearer depiction of any underrepresented class of applicants.
    Next, I would determine what the other city departments’ demographics are. Are the internal staffing of other city departments more representative of the community than the fire departments? If that is the case, the problem may be more internal to the fire department. Regardless of the findings, I am of the opinion that it is better to internally identify a problem and collectively (labor/management) develop a solution, rather than have an outside agency, such as the Department of Justice, come in and mandate a change of practice. Other models to deal with diversity issues include bringing in outside consultants, identifying a person or group in the department that is tasked with improving diversity, and various labor/management models recommended by the International Association of Fire Fighters.
    Numerous studies have been conducted to identify effective fire service recruiting methods for minority populations, and one of the most successful methods employed is the use of Cadet/Explorer programs. These programs encourage middle and high school students to explore firefighting careers. I would like to determine the feasibility of implementing such a program in the Arlington Fire Department. I would also explore other innovative recruiting techniques, such as recruiting in other cities and military out-processing facilities and creating advertisements targeted towards specific underrepresented minority groups.
    Finally, no recruiting program will succeed without the buy-in and support of the existing labor force. I would recommend that meetings be conducted with the Firefighters Association and town hall meeting be held with members of the AFD to effectively communicate the recruitment goals of the department and city. This would give department personnel an opportunity to express their opinions and offer suggestions, which will, in turn, strengthen the department’s recruiting efforts. 
    Numerous departments in the United States have multiple labor associations to deal with. Most of these departments have found that if the primary representatives – typically the Association Presidents - of the different associations are given the same opportunities for an audience with the fire chief, their concerns can be heard and addressed in a timely manner. I would remain open and available to meet with the respective representatives of both associations to hear their concerns.
    5.    What is your plan to address morale issues? Give examples of previous morale issues and your solutions.
    First, I would need to properly identify what the existing morale issues are. I would do this during the first 100 days of my administration by meeting with association officials and members of the department. Typically, morale issues require time to resolve and cannot be changed overnight. Depending on the issue, however, there are sometimes short-term solutions or “quick wins” that can be implemented to address morale issues relatively quickly. 
    I have identified morale issues in the past related to a lack of organizational communication and lack of support for officer development training. Both of these issues were critical to both the organization and the firefighters. To effectively deal with the lack of communication issue, I scheduled meetings with our field Battalion Chiefs to discuss current matters and address concerns that were being raised by their company personnel. On average, I would meet with the Battalion Chiefs around every 6 weeks. The information that was shared at these meetings was brought back to the firefighters through two main mechanisms. First, the Battalion Chiefs themselves were tasked with delivering the information to their companies. Next, a written summary (usually for more detailed information) was written and sent out to the companies to support the information the Battalion Chiefs were providing. The next way I addressed this issue was to meet with our Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) continuing education classes. This program has all members of the department, who are currently certified as EMTs, cycle through a course every two years. I personally meet with these classes and answer questions that are raised by the firefighters present.
    The officer training program that I have been developing has had the side benefit of improving morale in the department. Recognizing that our officer development program was limited and that we needed to expand and improve our training program for young officers, I developed a mentorship program. Along with the obvious benefits of improving the skill sets of our officers and linking a protégé to a mentor, we have received very positive feedback from firefighters, officers, and chiefs in the field about the program and how it has improved morale positive relationship building, improved training opportunities, and increased communication.
    6.    What is your experience with Mass Gatherings? How did you balance operational needs of the gathering with normal daily operational needs?
    I have worked at and managed a variety of mass gathering events throughout my career. Events where I have served in a management role, or as the Incident Commander, have included the Men’s & Women’s Final Four basketball championship series held in San Antonio; the National Basketball Association Championship game series; the Rock and Roll Marathon; and San Antonio’s numerous Fiesta gatherings. These gatherings have varied attendance ranging from 20,000 to approximately 40,000. I have assisted in logistics planning for some parades that had attendance numbers of over 100,000 people. The majority of these events ran several days and were managed collaboratively with San Antonio’s Emergency Medical Services division, the SA Police Department, and various state and federal assets. I have also worked at San Antonio’s Emergency Operations Center during various hurricane events in the state to assist with mass evacuations and sheltering matters.
    I have found the best way to balance the event’s operational needs with the department’s daily operational needs is by proper planning, scheduling, and the use of overtime personnel to either backfill for the department (for key personnel assigned to the event) or use of overtime personnel at the event.
    7.    How will you build a leadership team? What members of the organization will participate in the leadership team? How will these members be involved in decision-making?
    This is another area I would have to evaluate during the first 100 days of my administration. I would have to look at the strengths and depth of the existing leadership team and determine how well they work together and how well they support the needs of the organization. The next step would be learning the promotion process and identifying the key personnel – both the formal and informal leaders – of the department. The goal would be to put the right personnel in the right place, following the existing practices of the department, to effectively manage and grow the department. Effectively all members of the department are part of a leadership team, but the few with the formal authority to put programs into place must be willing to listen to the suggestions brought forward by others, regardless of rank. All members of the department can be involved in the decision-making process through the use of committees. Committees, or smaller working groups, can be formed to identify areas of improvement, assist with labor/management relationships, or to help manage day-to-day events. The committee allows all who choose to participate to have a voice at the table.
    8.    What are your leadership values? What do you value most? What do you value most about our job? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    Leadership values: In leadership, I value trust, competency, respect, dedication, education & empowerment, commitment, and collaboration. I would say that I value trust and commitment to the organization most, because without those values, it would be hard to excel in the other areas I identified. What I value most in our job are the people who have chosen our profession. I have never worked with a more dedicated and committed group of people than I have in the Fire Profession.   I am constantly amazed at what our members do, often placing service to others before self. I have found it both reassuring and satisfying that every time I have visited fire departments in other cities and communities, I have found that firefighters are pretty much the same no matter where you go—committed, caring, and ready to serve. 
    Strengths: I feel that most of my strengths are derived from a concern for others, a desire to listen, and a commitment to making sure that everyone who works with me goes home safely. I have a diverse background in the fire service and am able to combine many disciplines together to effectively manage a team. I am good at team building, I work well with both internal and external stakeholders of the organization, and I support empowering employees to allow them to improve their working conditions.
    Weaknesses: Like most managers who work in medium to large organizations, time management can be one of my weaknesses. While it would be nice to attend every meeting and activity you are invited to, it is sometimes difficult to balance the needs of the organization and outside agency needs, as well as complete every project in a timely manner. Finding the right balance is difficult at times, but can be done with effective planning and management.
    9.     What is the appropriate balance between fire service tradition and progressive change for our future?
    Tradition is certainly very strong in the fire service, and it should be respected, reinforced, and appreciated whenever possible. I am under the opinion that as long as it does not have adverse impact to an individual or create a dangerous situation, many fire department traditions should be honored and maintained. If, however, the tradition is only because “that’s the way we have always done it” and nobody can really remember why the tradition exists and it creates a hardship or inefficiency, then an alternate method should be looked into, at a minimum.
    The fire service is not only about tradition; we are also about change. Tradition was to “eat smoke” not that many years ago, now we can’t imagine going into a fire without proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). This change did not happen overnight. The change to our current PPE and the use of SCBA took numerous years to accomplish. This is a good example of moving away from tradition and using progressive change for the future of firefighting. Many of the progressive changes that affect fire departments can be implemented over time. Others, like laws implemented at the state level, require more immediate action and attention. Since change can be difficult for everyone, regardless of what they do for a living, a progressive and time-managed approach is the most sensible way to implement it.

    Page Last Updated: Jun 30, 2010 (20:13:00)
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