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Fire Protection is Transforming Processes

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Every week, Muncie, Indiana firefighters had to submit maintenance reports to headquarters. This had been done by hand—by actually driving fire trucks across town to deliver the paperwork!

As covered in the Star Press, this is a major change. You may also view a screenshot of the article here.

A low-cost upgrade of computer equipment at fire stations will eliminate the costly expense of firefighters using fire trucks to deliver paperwork to the chief’s office.

“If we are literally delivering every document from a fire station by fire truck, that is not an efficient operation,” said Mayor Sharon McShurley.

The city administration estimated a $1,500 cost to taxpayers every time fire trucks make a run, based on the 6,066 runs made one year at a $9 million budget expense.

(Mayor) McShurley told Fire Chief Sean Burcham recently to order equipment that would allow firefighters to transmit maintenance, training and other reports electronically to the chief’s office, now at City Hall, instead of having on-duty firefighters deliver paperwork by fire truck.

Journalist Rick Yencer went on to explain that this change required some new equipment. Thankfully, this mayor seems to have taken steps towards decreasing costs, but one has to wonder why things took this long. From AccelaWork’s point of view, it’s almost always faster and cheaper to collect, deliver, and review information using electronic mediums. From the outside, this change seems painfully obvious, but the article hints that the issues are more complex and that the workflow required significant investigation.


© Flickr user ewan traveler

Obviously, this is a major case of an organization dragging far behind the technological curve. However, the changes that were necessary at the Muncie Fire Department were more cultural than technological. The paper also reported that firefighters historically used company trucks to make supply runs to local grocery stores! To address problems with workflow, we must begin by understanding the motivations and beliefs of the stakeholders themselves. Furthermore, it is those individuals who should suggest new courses of action and who must implement new ideas.

There’s a chance that those within the organization weren’t even aware of how costly their actions were. If that’s the case, then this is likely an area where the stakeholders weren’t feeling empowered in the organization. Perhaps there was no motivation to try to save money since the firefighters wouldn’t directly benefit by cutting costs for the department. Or perhaps they really were completely oblivious to the cost per trip. Either way, that’s a major problem.

Sometimes within a government organization change can be hard, as there are many more approvals that are needed, but assuming your company is privately owned, then there’s absolutely no reason to not re-evaluate your processes and see where improvement can be found. Maybe there’s nothing going on that would cost you more than $1,000 every time, but even little costs can add up to a big waste when they’re unnecessary and avoidable.

There’s a pretty good chance if similar problems are in place in your organization that you don’t even realize it. After all, if you realized where the problems were, steps would hopefully have been taken to fix them. Sometimes it requires an outside point of view. Sometimes the solution is as easy as talking to your stakeholders and getting honest feedback on where things could be improved.

At AccelaWork, our focus is on helping organizations to improve productivity and satisfaction from the bottom up. Like the Muncie Fire Department, your company may be doing the equivalent of hauling reports across town at $1,500 a pop without realizing there could be a better way. Contact our business improvement consultants to discuss your workflow and ways we can work together to make positive improvements.

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