During a recent meeting at the Buckhall Volunteer Fire Station, more than 150 people gathered to write and sort an estimated 2,000 sticky notes that filled multiple walls in the station's large community room. The participants were there to identify the weaknesses of the county's current fire and rescue system as part of a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis.
The SWOT analysis is part of the fire and rescue reform process that the system is undergoing to examine how the county can most effectively provide fire and rescue service while maintaining the current combination system with career and volunteer members and meeting the needs of the community.
The SWOT analysis works, in part, by having participants make notes of what they think are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing an organization. In separate meetings, each dealing with one of the SWOT elements, people write their thoughts and suggestions on paper and then post them on the walls for the group to see. Once the notes have been posted, the group works together to sort them into categories to be analyzed and ranked in follow-up meetings.
Stakeholders identified and ranked strengths of the current fire and rescue system in previous meetings. During the May 12 meeting, participants identified 19 categories of weaknesses: accountability/oversight, apparatus/facilities, communications/relationships, dispatch system, executive committee/quorum, the Fire and Rescue Association, funding, leadership, policies/procedures, procurement/purchasing, staffing-certification, staffing, staffing-cross staffing, standards, technology, training, training-PSA, trust/relationships, and utilization of volunteers. During the May 26 meeting, participants will prioritize these categories.
Tracey Hormuth, who is facilitating this process, said SWOT analyses offer interested parties an opportunity to provide input. "It's to allow dialogue and participation of all stakeholders."
A SWOT analysis also helps find issues that might not be readily apparent without the input. "There's a lot of data here that will contribute to getting us info on how the fire and rescue system can be reformed," said Acting County Executive Chris Martino. "We're looking at strengths, and we want to build on those strengths. We need to identify weakness and see what's precipitating some of those. It's really about getting input from all the stakeholders so that we can see certain themes that we may not have seen without their input."
The SWOT analysis will continue through July with meetings from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Buckhall Volunteer Station at 7190 Yates Ford Road, Manassas. Volunteer and career fire and rescue personnel, as well as county residents, are invited to attend and to participate in all meetings. Results from each meeting will available on the county website at www.pwcgov.org/fireservice. All documents relating to the reform process will be posted there, as well.