You may think the headline on this article is an oversimplification. Or maybe you think the idea of fire prevention being good for firefighters is a bit off-base. But think about it. If we are making the homes and businesses in our communities safer, aren’t we making our firefighters safer as...
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We must also talk about the actual costs of incident response. Those costs escalate annually, consuming larger portions of already stretched budgets. Some city and town governing boards feel volunteers in the fire service are free and our response costs only encompass the fuel and necessary after-fire repairs. Why aren’t we educating the councils of our municipalities to the real costs of doing business? Why aren’t we out in the community demonstrating the value of fire prevention?
Fire departments must show the money holders the measures that could be taken to reduce the portions of our budgets going to response. Fire prevention should be at the top of the list. We must strive hard to have ordinances and regulations enacted in our communities requiring automatic fire sprinklers in commercial and residential applications. We will reduce civilian and firefighter injuries with fire sprinklers.
One way that makes sense – economic, moral and business sense – is to reduce the number and the severity of the fires we respond to. Is this a great revelation? Of course not. The U.S. fire service knows this to be true, but we downplay the importance of fire prevention. We spend money responding to incidents, training and buying the equipment necessary to maintain that response capability. Money should be placed in an equally fruitful and cost-efficient manner by going toward fire prevention activities that directly impact people where they are dying – in their homes.
The U.S. fire service must reconsider what is really important in the fire world. We are never going to keep every fire from occurring. It is not physically possible. But we must change the way we do business. An effective and inexpensive method of reducing firefighter injuries is to quit ignoring the common fire station problems we see on a daily basis. It is less costly to fix them before they cause a firefighter injury. Why don’t we fix them? Firefighters are notoriously the worst offenders when it comes to dealing with fire and life safety issues for themselves and their families. We must work to change this mindset from the inside out.
Injury recovery is not fun for anyone, not the people affected by the fire where the injury occurred, not the firefighters on scene who had to witness and react to the injured firefighter, not the fire department administration or the governing body of the community or district who have to deal with the direct and indirect costs to the department or municipality and, most assuredly, not for the family of the injured firefighter. Do we take them into consideration when we assess the priorities of our department? Do we wonder how they will survive financially if the breadwinner is injured? Even a short-term disruption in income during these trying financial times can harm a family for years or even forever. If the injured volunteer firefighter is a business owner, is that firefighter’s family prepared for a loss of income? Worker’s compensation is only a supplement. A self-employed firefighter may not be covered by anything except what worker’s compensation the department offers. Will that be enough for his family to live on? I doubt it.
I have said it before – fire prevention is much less expensive than fire response. It is as simple as that. We must take this new approach; research, develop and implement a home safety survey program that makes sense and provides many opportunities to be a positive factor in your community, all while you are doing everything you can to watch your bottom line.