Fire and emergency management/Leadership I:Strategies for Company Success (H803)/Problem-Solving I:Identifying Needs and Problems

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OBJECTIVES[edit | edit source]

The participants will:

1. Identify services provided by a typical fire company (outputs), and resources needed to provide these services (inputs) and understand their interrelationship.

2. Describe advantages and disadvantages of individual and group problem-solving.

3. Demonstrate nominal group technique (NGT).

4. Describe four methods by which problems are solved.

5. Outline the critical steps in a problem-solving model.

6. Apply force field analysis as an aid to diagnosing a problem.


The most important company responsibility is to carry out an assigned mission within the department. The CO is the link between the fire department administration and the firefighters and is responsible for transforming departmental goals into specific actions. The CO, therefore, must allocate available resources to meet company needs.


The community depends on the fire department for effective and efficient delivery of essential services. In order to assure availability of such services or outputs (EMS, fire suppression, fire prevention, etc.), the community provides necessary resources or inputs (personnel, apparatus, equipment, etc.) to the department. The department must manage available resources in a way that assures its ability to deliver required services effectively. This is accomplished by establishing and maintaining effective managerial processes throughout the department. Thus, the CO is responsible for such processes at the company level.


In order to fulfill the basic responsibility of contributing to the efficient operation of the fire and life safety system, the CO must allocate resources to meet needs. Before allocating resources, the CO must be able to identify the needs of the company. Allocating resources--which are often inadequate, to satisfy needs--which are often overwhelming, is one of the greatest challenges to managers of all levels. The CO must establish priorities.

Problemsw:Problem_solving arise when the needs of individuals or groups cannot be met, especially when their priorities are different from those of the allocator. The CO has to make judgments/decisions about whether existing processes are adequately meeting individual and group needs of the company. Problems generally arise when existing processes fail to meet existing needs. Then the CO must establish problem-solving priorities.

Often all problems are blamed on management. Perceived problems often focus on lack of personnel or equipment (resources) and overlook how things are working (processes).

While such an approach offers an easy way out for the CO, it simply avoids the real issues. In actuality, many problems can and should be solved at the company level without management involvement or support.

Admittedly, a few problems cannot be solved without management intervention, particularly ones which are caused by insufficient resources. But even these problems can be influenced in ethical and productive ways from the company level. Participative management implies that employees from all levels within an organization participate in and contribute to the problem-solving process. (Participation in this context can mean giving input, rather than being the actual problem-solver.)

It's the CO's responsibility to identify and solve problems which can be taken care of at the company level and to inform management about other critical problems which require upper-level attention.


The CO has needs and priorities to be satisfied and resources to be allocated, and, when these cannot be properly balanced, problems often result. What is a problem? A problem exists when there is a difference between the actual situation and the desired situation. A problem exists whenever there is a gap between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The greater the gap, the bigger the problem.

The CO has to decide how much input he/she needs from company members in order to identify and prioritize company problems.

There are distinct advantages to getting a maximum amount of input from all company members. Using a group process:

Allows the CO to hear about problems from company members' perspectives.

Generates more ideas--the CO gets a better picture of all problems.

Meets subordinates' need to be involved.

Heightens subordinates' awareness of conflicting needs and the complexity involved in trying to balance such conflicts.

Generates subordinate interest in solving company problems.

But, there are also some potential disadvantages to the group process:

Usually takes more time.

Cliques and conflicts sometimes develop.

Individuals may have little interest in participating.

Interacting groups may waste time on interpersonal relationships.

Ideas are sometimes evaluated prematurely.

Conformity may inhibit idea generation.

Certain people can dominate discussion and some are not heard.

Two techniques have been designed to overcome the disadvantages listed above:

Brainstorming and Both techniques can be used effectively for identifying problems and/or generating solutions. The NGT is particularly helpful in identifying a number of problems and establishing priorities for problem-solving efforts.

CHECKING PRIORITIES[edit | edit source]

After problems have been prioritized the CO needs to do a final check before committing resources to solving identified problems. The following questions will help determine whether solving a problem is worth the required time and effort.

Who will benefit if the problem gets solved? Highest priority should go to problems which impact on the public (quality of service, etc.).

Will it save money?

What's the impact on company performance? Will solving the problem enhance company effectiveness?

If solving the problem will not have a direct or indirect effect on quality of service, cost of operations, or company performance, then the problem is questionable as a valid priority.


The first method is intuitive, which is based on hunches, gut feelings, and is not systematic. The second is minimum effort. Judgments are based on a limited number of alternatives. An alternative is selected because it is good enough, rather than the best one. This method is sometimes called "satisficing."

The third method is politically based. The problem is diagnosed in terms of preferences and power of other parties affected by decision. Consequences of alternatives are assessed in terms of acceptance or resistance by other parties. Judgments are based on compromise, and implemented in a way that considers stake and political position of involved parties.

The fourth method is systematic. The problem-solver:

Relies on measurable objectives to achieve a goal.

Has explored all possible alternatives.

Knows relative pros and cons of each.

Always chooses the alternative(s) that maximize(s) the attainment of the goal. There are a fixed number of steps in the process. This method represents the ideal.


The figure below depicts an eight step model of a problem-solving process. The circle serves as a visual reminder that the problem-solving process is evolutionary in nature. Thus, it often becomes necessary to cycle back to earlier steps if difficulties arise or if solutions initially attempted fail to reach the established goal.


If a systematic problem-solving approach is required, the CO again needs to decide how much subordinate input is required to solve the problem. The CO should consider maximum participation throughout the entire process if:

The subordinates know more about the problem than the CO.

The subordinates will be affected in some way by the solution.

The CO needs subordinate cooperation in order to achieve the goal.

SETTING GOALS[edit | edit source]

After problems have been identified, convert each problem into a goal. A goalw:Goal_(management) is a broad statement of what you wish to accomplish. For example; Problem: Poor company performance at structure fires. Goal: To improve company performance at structure fires.

Then evaluate your goal. Is it realistic (achievable)? Is it important (worth our time)? Is it challenging (do we care)?

SITUATION ANALYSIS[edit | edit source]

First, determine causal factors. For example: What are the symptoms? Who is involved? What is the standard? What exactly is happening? Where is the problem occurring? When does it occur?

Some problems will have only one cause; others will have several. Many errors in problem-solving can be traced to confusing symptoms with causes. Symptoms are what happened such as, decreased productivity, lower quality, poor morale, and communication breakdowns. Causes are why it happened.

Next, identify factors which can contribute to reaching your goal (assets).

Finally, explore alternative strategies for reaching your goal and prioritize.

FORCE FIELD ANALYSIS[edit | edit source]

Force field analysisw:Force_field_analysis is a tool for organizing and analyzing information during the situation analysis step. It may be used individually or by a group. The procedure is as follows:

Clearly define the problem and goal by stating the difference between the actual and the desired situation.

List the forces that are driving the problem toward solution. These forces can be individual, organizational, or external.

List the restraining forces that are preventing movement toward solution.

These forces can also be individual, organizational, or external.

Make estimates of the relative strength of each of the driving and restraining forces.

Make estimates of your ability to influence each force.

One of three conditions will result:

If the driving forces outweigh the restraining forces, simply proceed.

If the restraining forces heavily outweigh the driving forces and if you do not have any possibility of reducing restraining forces, you should probably reconsider your goal because your probability of success is limited.

If the driving and restraining forces are about equal you should resist the temptation to push harder on the driving forces because the restraining forces will push back even harder. Rather, work to weaken or eliminate some of the restraining forces.


Click here to download Activity 1

SUMMARY[edit | edit source]

Let's recap for a moment and review our progress up to this point with the problem-solving model. We recognize that a problem exists. We then decide the appropriate level of participation of others in working toward a solution. Next we determine a problem-solving method (intuitive, minimum effort, political or systematic). The problem is converted to a goal. After determining a goal, we identify factors contributing to the problem (causal factors) and identify factors driving us toward a solution (assets).

The model will be completed in Problem-Solving II.

Glossary and Bibliography are located after Problem-Solving II.