By: Stewart Gary, Fire Practice Principal
City Management today is confronted with multiple challenges in providing adequately sized and cost effective fire services. Due to a “perfect storm” of circumstances, such as a challenging economic situation, turnover and increased complexity of operations, these challenges have approached “3rd Alarm” pain levels in many agencies. Do some or all of these issues exist in your situation?
- Increasing safety regulations
- Increasing safety equipment costs
- Significant increases in staffing costs, primarily driven by benefits
- Serious turnover in the command staff, with few to no successors in place
- In build-out communities, pressure to reduce costs and usually service levels
- In growing communities, pressure to keep services up with growth
- A new Chief of Department and/or command staff that need team skill development
- A newer command staff that does not yet have strategic planning and fiscal experience
- Pressure to consolidate with other agencies
- Pressure to re-think mutual aid partnerships
- Your neighbor reduced services, placing pressure on yours
- Your agency reduced services and now the neighbors won’t help as much.
Due to lack of experience internally, deadline time pressures, lack of staff time for special projects or a political trust issue, agencies turn to consultants. As in other services today in local government, fire services have grown very complex. One tool (skill set) does not usually fit the need anymore. Most of the issues outlined above require senior fire officer technical skills, combined with serious skill depth in human resources, finance, city manage-ment and elected official relations. Thus, these issues need a department head level team approach. Very few Fire Chiefs or non-local government executive experienced consultants have received the career experience to handle the issues above by themselves. A “virtual” city hall approach is what sets Citygate Associates, LLC apart from hiring just a Fire Chief or generic long-term consultant. Citygate lives up to our name by employing active and recently retired senior local government executives who still enjoy helping others and problem solving at the local level. We are driven by our belief that the best form of government is local, we are very experienced in it and can continue to use our career tool set to help others solve their problems.
Citygate’s approach on complex fire department issues like consolidations and master planning is to team our Fire Practice and General Government Principals together with the appropriate technical support assistance tailored to each project. This is a very powerful approach because the client gets a full range of both fire and city management skill depth. Our approach also works because of the ethics and values of our team. Our Fire and General Government Principals have worked together successfully because they share a common vision and values for quality safety services, while understanding local fiscal and political pressures. They design solutions that fit the local fact pattern; they don’t offer canned or “one size fits all” advice. In their active careers and as consultants, they have experience in all of the current issues listed above. They also learn from each new clientand transfer that learning as appropriate to other clients. Thus, what Citygate brings to the table is a consistently evolving best-practices skill set.
Citygate’s experienced team also offers a new service – Coaching the new or existing Department Head on an ad-hoc basis. Sometimes, a turnkey consultant report is not needed. What is needed is a technical, policy and/or political coach with experience in an area with which the local executive does not have deep experience. Sometimes executives need to “hear themselves think” or “brainstorm options” in a safe environment with a peer who is not locally, politically or emotionally involved with the problem at hand. Sometimes Citygate provides background facts for local staff to include in their staff reports, or we can brief key stakeholders on-site. We can facilitate problem solving team meetings. These services can be cost-effectively provided on a time and materials basis.
Think of Citygate Associates as “your firefighters” – specialists who can respond either almost immediately to a crisis or over a longer, planned approach with fixed-price, turnkey or ad-hoc services. Citygate’s Fire Practice can deliver:
- Master/Strategic Planning
- Fire Station/crew deployment studies
- Consolidation studies
- Cost analysis of services
- Geographic mapping of issues
- Consolidation implementation assistance
- Fire management team building
- EOC position training and exercises
- Funding service options
- Statistical analysis.
Citygate Associates also is a resource company that uses and leverages technology to deliver high quality assistance, cost-effectively. We partner with other “best of breed” firms to deliver our consulting services along with turnkey software or building/site design services. Our website contains information on these business partners. We will not offer assistance where we do not possess the best possible skill set. In these circumstances, we typically know who does and will refer the inquiry to a more specialized firm, such as for Cal-PERS actuarial studies.
Chief Stewart W. Gary, MPA, Citygate Fire Services Principal, retired as the Fire Chief of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department in Alameda County, California. In 1996, he successfully designed and led the implementation of the Livermore-Pleasanton fire department consolidation, which won a California League of Cities Helen Putnam award. For the past fourteen years, he also has been the lead instructor and program content developer for the Standards of Response Coverage (deployment) process. He teaches and consults across the United States and Canada on the Standards of Response Coverage process.
Dwane N. Milnes, DPA, General Government Principal, has extensive experience in municipal management, having served as City Manager or Assistant City Manager for 24 years. He retired as the City Manager of Stockton, CA. He earned a doctorate in Public Administration from the University of Southern California.
Mr. Gary and Mr. Milnes have successfully worked together with a variety of communities on deployment studies, consolidation studies and strategic planning issues.