By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Consultant says firefighters used to relaxed leadership
Placeholder Image

After numerous complaints from firefighters, a review has been conducted on McMinnville Fire Department in hopes of stemming the ongoing controversy.
City officials asked the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) to review the department, determine where the discontent lies, and make suggestions for change. Fire management consultant Dennis Wolf performed the review and compiled a 40-page assessment.
Among his findings, Wolf said firefighters don’t like heavy-handed leadership. He also said they don’t hesitate to go over the head of the fire chief if they are upset.
According to Wolf, one of the problems is resistance from firefighters in transitioning from a relaxed leadership style under former fire chief Kevin Lawrence to one that is more rigid under current Fire Chief Keith Martin.
“There are problems with the leadership in the fire department, and the cause of these problems goes back many years,” Wolf said in the study. “The longtime previous chief had a Laissez-faire approach to management, which led to problems in leadership and management of administrative and operational functions.”
Laissez-faire leadership, also known as delegative leadership, is a style in which managers are hands-off and allow subordinates to make decisions. Martin offers more of a “directive autocratic management” style, according to Wolf, meaning he makes the decisions with minimal feedback from subordinates.
In an effort to bridge the gap between the two, Wolf recommended that Martin include management by walking around (MBWA) in his management style.
“While engaging in MBWA, the fire chief will benefit from the unfiltered, real-time information about the department’s activities and culture that is typically absent from normal communication channels. MBWA helps build interpersonal relationships that lead to better operations and mutual respect and trust.”
Violations of the chain of command were found in the study.
“McMinnville firefighters are used to going outside the chain of command if something does not suit them, including going to officials at City Hall, officials in other organizations, and the press ...”
Wolf suggests zero tolerance for violations of the chain of command.
“Breaking the chain of command shows a lack of respect for authority, undermines the authority of the fire chief, and contributes to internal dissonance, operational issues, miscommunication, and confusion,” Wolf wrote. “Violating the chain of command is a serious issue and should not be tolerated, and is a contributing factor with the management and leadership issues in the fire department.”
Wolf found a lack of discipline within the department.
“A lack of discipline was an issue mentioned frequently. In this instance, the term discipline includes personal accountability, consistent corrective action for infractions of policy and procedures, and attention to order and control of operations.”
Wolf’s recommendation is to establish a fair discipline policy that promotes positive discipline. The policy should be applied consistently and uniformly.
A review was also seen as a way to reduce the tension between Martin and the city after McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley attempted to silence complaints within the department by offering Martin four months severance pay if he would resign.
Martin, who was hired by the city April 1, sought the legal services of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel of Chattanooga.