Arlington Professional Fire Fighters
IAFF Local 1329
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    September 19, 2020
  • David Coatney Questionnaire
    Posted On: 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.
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