By FD Hacks
Firefighters love to complain, providing fire department decision makers with plenty of anecdotal information. But how can we implement a new standard operating procedure or make major changes to personnel programs while lacking concrete, defendable data? We often operate in a silo about our own fire department when we make decisions with lasting impact.
To better understand your department, use a survey to collect credible data. If designed and implemented properly, an internal firefighter survey can produce concrete insight you can defend. An internal firefighter survey allows you to highlight strengths and weaknesses, identify trends, and establish a baseline to benchmark progress against.
Once convinced a survey should be in your toolbox, determine your specific goals for the survey. What is the exact purpose? What specifically do you hope to accomplish? Common reasons for a survey include:
Do you want to assess overall department morale?
Do you want to gauge current membership satisfaction?
Are you planning on making a policy change, or have already made a policy change, and want feedback on success?
Are you trying to identify unclear root causes of operational deficiencies (like high overtime)?
With purpose and goals clearly identified, you must choose an instrument to implement your survey. Below we will cover common and practical survey instruments for internal fire department surveys. Note that the remainder of this post focuses on survey instruments; just some ideas to get you thinking. In future posts, we will discuss survey design (the type of questions you should ask).
Options For A Firefighter Survey
1. Paper (Keep It Simple...)
Consider the goal(s) of your survey. Paper-based surveys are the most basic format. It does not allow for any survey logic, which is when the flow/type of survey questions asked is dependent upon how the respondent answers each question. To implement, you can place survey copies in common areas, such as a drivers’ room or lounge, with an envelope or sealed box for submission. If you have a specific topic/goal, you could pass out the survey at a meeting or drill and have a collection at the end.
- Great for simple survey goal
- Quick feedback
- No technology required
- Less time involved
- Manual data entry upon collection
- No logic (differentiation in questions based on responses)
- Limited analytic capabilities
- Manually create reports for visual representation and assessment
- Not practical for a comprehensive or complex analysis
2. Digital Survey
While this method requires some basic tech competence and computer access, it provides enhanced data collection and ease of survey dissemination. More importantly, digital surveys allow for some advanced logic, asking different questions based on how the respondent answers certain questions. For example, “in the last six months, have you experienced harassment?” If the respondent answers yes, this could pop-up next, “Was this harassment from a company officer?” As another example, “have you felt restricted by the policies implemented at the start of this year?” If they answer yes, then, “Which policies have been restrictive?” could pop up with a list of the three new policies and a description box for free text explanation.
Online tools have made this easy. For our service, either Survey Monkey or Google Forms will satisfy your needs. Both platforms have FREE easy-to-use options. Just create an account and follow the instructions.
Export to Excel
Mobile device optimization
Appropriate for comprehensive surveys
Practical for recurring survey
Send out digitally (email, text, link, social media)
Heightened sense of anonymity
Basic tech skills required
Access to computer required
3). In Person Survey
This is the most time-intensive method because it requires face-to-face meetings between survey team and survey respondent. Depending on goals and type of data you are seeking, it can be the most rewarding or inappropriate. Success is dependent upon selecting the right firefighters to implement the survey.
Subjective data (humans recording)
More complicated and time intensive
Must select appropriate survey team
Not practical for ongoing or recurring surveys
Have live conversation with respondent
Find out additional data
Engage with membership
Good for complex surveys
Beneficial for assessing morale or if you’re seeking new ideas.
4). Multi-model Survey
You don’t have to utilize one method exclusively. If you’re conducting a more significant analysis, or one size won’t fit all in your department, use more than one. If you do, ensure that survey instruments are consistent in wording, question order, and terminology. Consolidate the data into one centralized location for analysis. For example, you can send out the link to a digital survey via email, but also post paper version in a common room. Or if you’re conducting in-person surveys, you can provide a digital option for those that do not want to meet in-person or cannot make it to a meeting.
Data integrity concerns if questions not exact across formats
In the age of the modern firehouse, we need defendable data that we can track and measure to make decisions, enact policies, and improve our departments. Depending on goals, a survey of your firefighters can provide crucial information. Developing specific goals will help determine the appropriate instrument for conducting your survey. This is nowhere near a comprehensive post, just some ideas to get you thinking about including surveys as another tool in your toolbox.
We believe that surveys are an important topic for the modern firehouse. This HACK focuses primarily on the survey instruments. We plan to have additional posts that assist with survey design and implementation. If you have any feedback, it would be greatly appreciated! Let us know in the comments or email us.
Disclaimer: Always consider your own department policies and procedures. We are not affiliated with any products/services mentioned in this post.