Guilderland (NY) Fire Department is an all-volunteer fire department within a fire district. The 37 members run about 230 calls a year over a six-square-mile area.
In his 35 years in the fire service, Chief (ret.) Brian Forte has held multiple roles. He started as a firefighter, then worked as chief, then commissioner. Today, he continues to serve as a volunteer life member with the Guilderland (NY) Fire Department (GFD) while also working as the membership coordinator for the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs (NYSAFC).
In all his roles, Chief Forte has always been very involved with the development and maintenance of department policies and procedures. So he’s quite familiar with the challenges of policy management. “It was cumbersome,” he says. “All our policies and SOPs were housed in this big binder. I’d update the content and then the chief would have to make sure all our members read and understood the updates by January 31 of each year.”
Tracking acknowledgment of these changes meant signing a paper in the conference room, which meant volunteers had to come in specifically to read the updates. The system wasn’t efficient and department leaders lacked confidence that members were actually reading, let alone understanding, the policy changes.
In 2016, Chief Forte saw an opportunity for improvement. Through NYSAFC’s partnership with Lexipol, he learned about Lexipol’s New York Fire Policies and Training service, which provides comprehensive policies and training via an online platform with features such as electronic policy acknowledgment. Chief Forte liked the idea of bringing the department’s policies in line with New York State and national best practices.
“We had a lot of policies, but we needed to update them,” Chief Forte says. “Our Sexual Harassment Policy had been the same since the ‘90s and the Lexipol policy was obviously better and more current. And we were missing a few policies that we needed.” Chief Forte took on the job of customizing the Lexipol policies to fit his department’s manual. Lexipol’s Knowledge Management System (KMS) made it easy to copy and paste the department-specific content that he wanted to retain, incorporating it into the new policies. “KMS is easy to use; it’s not cumbersome,” Chief Forte says. “Even our most technology-challenged people can use it.”
Throughout the process, Lexipol’s customer service was there to help. Chief Forte also took advantage of Lexipol’s onboarding program, which taught him the ins and outs of KMS as well as critical factors to consider when incorporating his own policies into the Lexipol policies. “That was very helpful in getting started,” he says.
Within eight months, the GFD has a brand-new manual with legally defensible policies covering all aspects of the department’s operations. “It was a lot of time to invest up front,” he says. “But now that our manual is in place, I barely have to spend any time updating our manual.”
The GFD gave its volunteer membership time to get used to the new program, but it didn’t take very long. The biggest benefit, Chief Forte notes, is how increased access to the policies enhances policy compliance.
“We have peace of mind knowing our policies are updated, easy to continuously update, and then get out to our membership immediately,” he says. “Before, the chief would have to catch everyone in the station or chase people down for acknowledgment. Now, as soon as there is a change, everyone is automatically notified and they can look at the changes right there on their own phones or computers. And the chief can get a report of who’s acknowledged the changes and who hasn’t, rather than searching through pieces of paper in the station. It really helps with compliance.”
Lexipol has helped take the GFD’s policies from pieces of paper that sat in a binder to information that’s instantly accessible to all members. “It’s convenient and it’s easy,” Chief Forte says. “There’s no more wasted time hunting policies down; you can search for whatever you need from the palm of your hand. Our members don’t have to come in to the station to read the policy. That ability to search for what you need and access it immediately—it’s incredible!”