Meet the CPSM Team: Thomas Wieczorek

Thomas “Tom” Wieczorek is an expert in fire and emergency medical services operations. The former Executive Director of the Center of Public Safety Excellence, he has also served as police officer, fire chief, director of public safety, city manager, and executive director for the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE, Inc.). Tom has taught several higher educational programs and has worked with the National League of Cities and the Department of Homeland Security to create a national program on emergency management for local officials.

Tom received the Mark E. Keane “Award for Excellence” in 2000 from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the Association’s highest award. He was also honored as City Manager of the Year (1999) and Person of the Year (2003) by the Rural Water Association of Michigan.

Where did you attend college and what did you study?
It’s actually been a life-long learning process. It seemed that I was often a practitioner seeking answers through life-long education. I started with a journalism background after being awarded several state and national awards for writing and then began my police career through Kalamazoo Community College with graduation from its police academy in December 1979. Following, I took numerous classes that were recognized by the Michigan State Police for Advanced Education. One of the highlights was studying studying forensic pathology and accident reconstruction at Michigan State University. Both programs showed how you needed to look at the pieces of evidence in order to develop the larger picture of what caused the events or what contributed to the events. I also taught precision driving and the first generation of radar which was court-mandated at the time.

Originally, I had started my education in the fire field with basic training, and later moved into the law enforcement field. In law enforcement, the ongoing programs and education resulted in a series of promotions and recognitions be NHTSA and others in the areas of traffic safety.

How did you get involved in the public safety and local government professions?

I have always loved two things: journalism and public safety. I began working in journalism out of high school while taking classes and won a number of state and national awards for reporting and investigative journalism from the Associated Press, United Press International, and the Inland Press Association. I began my public safety career in 1979. From there, I worked my way up through the local government profession until I was asked to be the interim, then permanent, City Manager of Ionia, Michigan. I served as City Manager for 16 years.

The programs that required investigations helped both my career at the time as well as developing processes we use at CPSM. We investigated and then adapted our police and fire department into a full-service public safety department. After serving on a handful of committees for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), I helped establish the City’s fire accreditation process. Known at the time as Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI), I was one of the first city manager’s to take the process training and then become a peer assessor at agencies across the United States. The CFAI process was a joint effort between the IAFC (fire chiefs) and ICMA that followed the police accreditation process to provide continuous improvement based on data.

How did you first come to work for CPSM?
I first heard about the idea behind CPSM when I was the Executive Director for the Commission on Fire Accreditation International which was rebranding as the Center for Public Safety Excellence, Inc (CPSE). We worked closely with ICMA and IAFC and I had been involved since the late 80’s as a representative/member of ICMA. ICMA was launching a consultant program for its members that included areas of public safety. ICMA had asked me to join their staff and i worked with Leonard Matarese and Dov Chelst to create CPSM-ICMA. The founding principle behind this new program was asking how public safety (police and fire) worked as one of the biggest entities in the local government sector. Rather than give opinions, our processes were based on research and operations management principles that were developed nationally and internationally. Those best practices were evaluated as opportunities for local government to improve deployment and operations.

How has CPSM grown over time?
First and foremost, CPSM has excelled at using data as a predictor. Rather than just managing the public safety departments with traditional deployment, we have fully understood how to utilize data to mitigate risks. This process has been around for many years but it has been slow to find its way into the areas of public safety. This methodology has informed the whole process of what we can do better and how, as well as how to take advantage of opportunities along the way. I really love getting down into the data to work with deployment patterns because there is a ton of data, but many communities don’t know how to use it to implement best practices and standards. Research has shown that emergencies occur on a rather predictable basis — times of day, days of week, and times of the year. Do we match our deployment patterns with these trends or do we adopt a ‘one size fits all’ mentality? If it’s the latter, we are likely wasting resources.

What has been your favorite project?
I really enjoyed working with the City of Novi in Michigan. They fully embraced what we came up with: they ran with the data, improving themselves, and then went on to teach other departments on what advances they could make. Because of this desire to develop and make progress, the police and fire departments came together and created a Director of Public Safety position. Projects like this really give you a good feeling; by embracing change, they’ve become leaders in their own rights. One of their former commanders recently joined our team following his retirement.

In your time with CPSM, what has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
Nobody likes change. Change is a hard thing for both individuals and departments. But, if change does not happen, you’re going backwards. That’s the biggest challenge facing local government in the public safety field. New processes have been created, such as the fire accreditation program, but even that program has only been executed in a small percentage of the nation’s 33,000 fire departments. However, on the flip side, there are always new opportunities because of change and that is the exciting part.

How do you want to help CPSM grow in the future?
Our team has been working on using the data we analyze to develop strategic plans for departments of all sizes. Recently, we have been putting more effort in emergency management and emergency services because they involve every resource the city has. We have seen more severe weather; we have seen more natural and human-made disasters. In order to respond appropriately one has to understand the process and plan accordingly. All disasters start and end at the local level and if you fail to plan, you are going to plan to fail. We are working with ICMA on webinars and in-person education opportunities to build the leaders for tomorrow that will be guiding response to these incidents.