Grand Rapids Fire Department 
Beginner level
Intermediate level

Improving the fire department through lean, not 'firefighting'

Policy deployment in action


Practitioner Presentation
Tuesday, Nov. 5 Location Code
2:15pm-3:15pm Regency Ballroom D, West Tower, Ballroom Level TS/14

Learn how lean principles are applied in a non-traditional environment to eliminate waste, increase service levels, improve finances, and transform how a key government agency operates.


When the Great Recession hit in 2008, Grand Rapids, MI, struggled to maintain services amid plunging tax revenues, increasing layoffs, and deepening budget cuts. When local business leaders suggested city officials apply lean management to maintain services, the fire department became an early adopter. Learn how resistance to change was overcome in the tradition-bound fire service and how the A3 problem-solving process was used to address systemic department issues. Discover how the department’s CI efforts evolved from a focus on tools like standard work, 5S, rapid improvement events, and visual management, to a daily lean management system, and how activities like Monday morning improvement walks, personal kanban boards, and huddles make the daily system work. Gain insights into the use of hoshin kanri for strategic planning. Hear how lean methodology bridged the gulf between management and operations personnel by shifting from an approach of doing lean to people to doing lean for people.


The Grand Rapids Fire Department was founded in 1850 and serves as the first line of defense for a wide spectrum of emergencies that take place within the 45.3 square miles of the Midwest city of approximately 200,000 residents. On an annual basis the organization responds to over 24,000 emergencies with its cadre of 177 fire suppression personnel and a supporting cast of 14 administrative, 10 prevention, and 4 training employees. The department has developed a dedicated planning division which often assists other city departments or other agencies with their planning or continuous improvement efforts. The GRFD has earned international accredited status and is the only ISO class 1 department in Michigan, making them one of 70 departments in the country to hold both of these prestigious designations.

Presenter: Brad Brown

Brad Brown is a 22-year member of the fire service, currently serving as the assistant fire chief in Grand Rapids, MI, overseeing a $32 million budget, a fleet of 30 fire apparatus, and 11 fire stations. He is a lifelong learner; earning his lean champion certification, his executive fire officer certification from the national fire academy, and is wrapping up his doctoral degree in organizational leadership and development from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, MI. Brown has presented numerous times over the past several years for the Michigan Lean Consortium, The American Society for Quality and the Center for Public Safety Excellence.