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The Three T's to Organizational Failure in the Volunteer Fire Service

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

The three T’s to poor performing organizations-

Is your organization under-performing and can’t seem to find a way forward? Evaluate the presence of the three t’s that lead to organizational failure: Turmoil, Turnover, and a Toxic Environment. These issues have a synergistic relationship, meaning all of them must be addressed, not just one.

Turnover: Is there a constant turnover of leadership within your organization? If so, you need to figure out the root cause and address it. Stable leadership is essential to organizational success. Constant turnover in leadership positions leads to confusion, lack of direction, lack of vision, unclear expectations, and problems not being addressed timely and appropriately. Imagine being a new member who will need direction and questions answered, but they keep getting pointed into different directions because of the lack of stable leadership. What is the result? They get frustrated and leave your organization. Hopefully, they have not lost all motivation in the volunteer service, and try a different organization; but chances are, they just gave up altogether. Turnover causes issues with existing members as well. People will be unsure of what the expectations are and how the department is moving forward. This leads to apathy and ultimately will turn people away from dedicating their very valuable time at your department. Lastly, a stable leadership must be in place in order to address the remaining two “T’s”: turmoil and toxic environment.

Turmoil: Turmoil cannot be permitted to linger within a department. If the leadership allows turmoil to linger, it sets a precedent that there is no accountability and that the membership can do whatever they want. This can lead to the undermining of the leadership in place and ultimately lead to organizational chaos. Another factor of unresolved turmoil is related to the retention of members. We are all asking for members to dedicate a substantial amount of time to our respective departments. We can all acknowledge their time is valuable and should not be wasted. Do you think someone wants to spend time sitting at a station when turmoil is present? The answer is simply no, they will go take care of other more pressing matters in their lives. This ultimately affects the public that we promise to serve. People do not want to be subjected to infighting, politics, and drama. Check out our blog post titled "The 8 Deadly Sins in Managing the Volunteer Fire Service" for more information on organizational turmoil. In order to maintain a stable balance of the organization, leaders must address the turmoil in a swift and appropriate fashion-which is an art that we will address in a future blog post.

Toxic Environment: A toxic environment within your department will lead to organizational failure at an alarming rate. A toxic environment can also cause problems outside of your station which can have a lasting negative impact on your organization (donors, supporters, stakeholders, recruitment initiatives). What leads to a toxic environment? Ultimately a failure in leadership. It is unacceptable to have an environment where people do not feel welcomed, especially new members. New members are the future of each department and should be treated as such. If we want to be treated as professional organizations, we cannot permit hazing of new members or any member for that matter. Leaders need to ensure that there is a team atmosphere where everyone brings something to the table. Leaders cannot tolerate backstabbing, hostility, infighting, threats, harassment, or bullying. Are you prepared to handle a lawsuit or an equal employment opportunity complaint? These often get local media coverage, which can be devastating to your recruitment initiatives, public trust, and fundraising. Leaders should be elevating and praising their members in public not putting them down or discipline them. If discipline is required, it should be conducted in a fair and just manner behind closed doors. In most instances, discipline should incorporate learning and coaching. Leaders cannot rule as a dictator. Leaders cannot create cliques and display favoritism. All of these attributes create toxic and biased environments.

Do you have the three T's in your department? Reach out to us for assistance.

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