Developing Mission, Vision, and Value Statements for Your Fire and EMS Department

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

OK, I’m back! Been quite hectic the past two weeks as I moved from the apartment that I’d lived in for the past ten years, the first eight with my late wife, Wilma Lester Avsec, who passed away October 31, 2020 (Boy, that year, 2020, that’s one I think we’d all like to forget, right?).

So, that’s where I’ve been, physically and mentally. Now I’d like to return to the topic broached in my last post, Why vision, mission, and values statements matter more than ever for your fire and EMS department.

Your Department’s Mission Statement

A fire and EMS department’s mission statement should drive its values and vision for the future. That’s why it’s important that your departments have all three, and that your process to develop them—and use them—follows the flow in the graphic below:

While they may seem similar—Their surnames are all “Statement”—and while it can be hard to differentiate between the three sometimes, there are distinct differences.

Your Mission Statement should be your “stake in the ground!” It tells internal and external stakeholders alike why your fire and EMS department exists in the first place and typically will start with phrases such as:

  • “We are…”
  • “We act as…”
  • “Our mission and purpose are to…”

So, before putting pen to paper—or fingers to the keyboard—make sure that what you create for a mission statement has a purpose and answers the question, “Why does [Name of Department] exist?”

Example: “We strive to protect and support the community by providing outstanding service in the areas of fire suppression, emergency response, member training, fire prevention, public education, and charitable community service.” – Parksville (B.C.) Fire Rescue

Where does your fire and EMS department want to go?

Your Vision Statement should be futuristic so that it tells everyone what your department plans to do. Vision statements should be “short and sweet” in nature but should also convey what that future looks like. Get your vision statement off to a good start with words like:

  • “We will…”
  • “We aim to be…”
  • “Striving toward…”

Example: “We are a responsive and progressive organization. We commit to excellent leadership and professional accountability. We will achieve this through effective training, technology and adapting to the changing needs of the community.” Arlington County (Va.) Fire Department

Values Statements – “Our Principles”

Organizational values are important for both your fire and EMS department’s members and those people who need your services or decide whether to support your organization (e.g., with donations, supporting taxes or levies) according to your guiding principles. Your department should have a published listing of its values so that both your internal and external stakeholders know and understand what beliefs and basic values they can expect from the organization and its people.

What is a value statement?

With a value statement, you’re giving those internal and external stakeholders a brief declaration describing the priorities and values of your fire and EMS department. A well-thought-out value statement tells both stakeholder groups what principles are most important to the organization; it can also serve as a guide when making important internal decisions. By creating excellent value statements, your department can see the following benefits:

Create unity among team members if it encourages them to work together with the same priorities.

Encourages transparency and communication up and down the organization. A fire and EMS department that shares what it believes in encourages all team members to do the same.

Connects with external stakeholders to help develop better relationships with the people and businesses in your community.

Gives your members guidance on how they should respond to situations. Especially in situations where there may be no policy or procedure or where the current situation is not covered in a policy or procedure. For my money, this just may be the most important reason for having a good value statement because you can’t have a policy or procedure that covers all probabilities. But you can have a value statement that tells them how to act in the best interests of the department, the community, and the people they serve.

All values are equally but not the same

Let’s look into the “values toolbox” and see the distinct types of values (tools) that you may include in your statement. Here are a few to consider:

Core values are the fundamental values of your fire and EMS department and its team members. Core values include things such as creativity, empathy, or responsibility.

Aspirational values cover what your department aspires to be or aims to improve upon but might not be there yet. Aspirational values might include things like a membership that more closely looks like the community the department serves or decreasing your department’s carbon footprint.

Accidental values on the other hand, are the shared behaviors, beliefs, and attributes in the workplace that are unintentional and unwritten. They are the values that bubble up, well … accidentally, and sometimes covertly, until suddenly you look around the department and say, “Wow, is it weird that everyone here has a blue mohawk, a pet chihuahua-doodle, and likes polka music?” 

Getting Started

A well-thought-out value statement should include:

1. What’s important to your department? A value statement should define what’s important to your fire department and its members, specifically it should clearly state what your organization’s most essential values are. These should be concepts that everyone believes in, prioritized values, or guiding principles that help team members decide what to do and how.

2. How the organization conducts itself. This may include a specific action, like focusing on sustainability or a mission to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. While a value statement may discuss your department’s mission, it’s not the same thing as a mission statement. Instead, a value statement focuses on the values rather than the mission (That’s why it’s called a “value statement,” right?).

3. How the value relates to the department’s external stakeholders. A value statement should not only highlight your department’s values but also how they relate to the people in the community. A value statement informs and educates those external stakeholders as to why they should care, or how the department’s values may benefit them.

Writing a value statement

You can write a value statement using the following steps:

1. List the values that are important to your organization. Brainstorm these values without consideration to how they specifically relate to your department or its priorities. Encourage this process using the following methods:

Ask external stakeholders to describe your department in a few words. This can give you an idea of your current reputation, which may help you when writing a value statement.

Ask members—from all levels of your organization—for their ideas.  Ask them to consider the priorities, or most important values, of your department.

Consider what’s most important to you. Think about your key priorities as the leader of the department.

Consider the types of behaviors you value most in teammates. What are the admirable qualities of incumbent team members? What qualities do you look for when hiring new team members?

Think about the goal or purpose of your department. Consider the function of your products or services. Think about why you started the business or started working for the business in the first place, as this may help you identify values.

2. Narrow down your list of values

Once you finish compiling your list, evaluate your ideas and choose the top five. These five should be the values that are most important to you and your internal and external stakeholders. They should embody the values that you and your people strive to demonstrate every day.

3. What actions demonstrate values?

A value statement is actionable. This means that it informs team members how to behave or where their focus should be. Consider a few actionable ways to demonstrate each of your top five values. Consider how you and your team members can apply the values in the workplace. This might include things like demonstrating empathy when working with external stakeholders or encouraging all members to take part in creating departmental goals.

4. Write your value statement

Choose one or two of the top values from your list—along with actionable steps—to write your value statement. Keep your statement brief, typically only a sentence or two. Ensure that your value statements are specific and tell your members and external customers exactly what you plan to do. Once you finish writing your value statements, share them with members at all levels of the organization for their feedback.

Example Value Statements from the Arlington County (Va.) Fire Department:

  • Tradition – Passing on positive practices and information from member to member that reflects the adaptive heritage of the department.
  • Professionalism – Demonstrate personal and organizational excellence.
  • Diversity – Be respectful and inclusive of the talents and needs of employees and customers.
  • Leadership – Be a positive role model and have the courage to do what is right.
  • Integrity – Demonstrating personal accountability by taking responsibility for one’s actions.
  • Consistency – Maintaining uniform, reliable practices that support equity and trust.

Developing and communicating a department’s mission, vision, and values are important organizational management tools for any fire and EMS department, especially one that’s committed to getting the best performance from its members and delivering the best service to its external stakeholders.

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].