Development of a Strategy for Conflict Management During Fire/EMS Department Amalgamation

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By Bernard E. Williams, Ph.D.

The purpose of this research was to develop a strategy for the management of conflict between Fire and EMS personnel in the Edmonton Emergency Response Department. The research was undertaken employing both an historical research methodology and an action research methodology. Document analysis and interviews were used to gain an understanding of the premerger motives. Management literature on amalgamation (mergers and acquisitions) and on theories of conflict management was examined in order to develop an organizational strategy to provide direction in the development of a specific set of guidelines or tools that may be used by managers to resolve or diffuse situations where conflict negatively affected organizational performance. The following research questions were pursued:

  1. What insights can management literature or research provide regarding the amalgamation of two organizations and the underlying reasons for conflict?
  2. What methods or strategies for conflict resolution and conflict management are described in the management literature?
  3. Which of the theories or models described in the literature can be adapted to the emergency response industry in order to provide a framework for conflict management in the Edmonton Emergency Response Department?
  4. What organizational strategies should be pursued in order to facilitate the amalgamation process and assist managers in their role as conflict managers and dispute resolvers?

Through the literature search conducted in this project, articles were discovered in the mergers and acquisitions literature and in the conflict management literature that provided insight and understanding into the problems associated with managing a merger in a large organization. Based on propositions found in the mergers and acquisitions literature, several recommendations were made regarding the manner by which the merger of fire and EMS organizations can be managed effectively. In the present case, as in others discussed in the literature, premerger discussions focused on the strategic aspects of amalgamation rather than on the organizational elements. The lesson for other organizations is to carefully consider the "human side" of the merger and provide training and direction to employees throughout the organization so that they are prepared to face the types of human resource problems that are inevitable in any merger. Another recommendation that was drawn from the mergers and acquisitions literature and the present case was the need to explicitly clarify whether the amalgamation is a merger or an acquisition, and to provide employees with clear direction and reliable information concerning what is going to happen and why it is going to happen.

Specific recommendations were also drawn from the conflict management literature. In terms of the Edmonton Emergency Response Department specifically, it was recommended that the step-by-step conflict management process developed by Carpenter and Kennedy (1988) be reviewed by the ERD Academy and developed into a customized training program for District Chiefs and EMS Supervisors. Finally, the development of a strategy for conflict resolution for line managers was deemed to be contingent upon the senior management providing the vision, mission, and leadership that is required to ensure that the merger leads to the realization of the economies of scale and improved service to the public that were anticipated through the merger.