A Call to Reform the Fire Service in 2011

Tradition: the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting. A continuing pattern of culture beliefs...


Tradition: the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting. A continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices.

The fire service is based upon tradition, some still good, some outdated, most still applicable with a few cultural adjustments as we go along. With the New Year upon us it offers a perfect time to evaluate these traditions and make those needed adjustments. As Father Time ends his journey and passes his banner to the New Year's baby, many of us take stock in our lives and use it as a starting line for a new and improved self. For example, exercise more, eat better, be nicer to the lieutenant. As a profession dedicated to the wellbeing of others, this is also a prudent time for us to take stock in our profession and use this time to work towards a new and improved service.

It is time that we examine our past in order to reevaluate our future and set a solid course, and when it comes to fire prevention, we need to take a very hard look at our service as a whole and how we approach it and how it impacts our community and our firefighters; and how we conform to the value as the community judges it based upon today's expectations. It is a time to question our traditions as it relates to prevention and our traditional roles in the community.

There are lives out there right now, in your very community -- possibly even in your family, who may not be with us by this time next year. They will lose their life in a preventable fire. How am I so sure of this? All fires are preventable with the exception of maybe those caused by Mother Nature, and if the fire was not preventable due to, let's say a lightning strike, the subsequent deaths definitely were.

Traditionally the fire service has approached fire prevention as a once a year event involving fire truck tours, show and tell, puppet shows and clowning, handing out smoke detectors, station open houses, banners and posters, and a TV interview or two. But a good fire prevention program involves constant contact and exposure to our citizens. One of the biggest challenges to our efforts is an increasingly busy and unfocused society that fears everything from terrorism to natural disasters -- but not fire. This means that your citizen's time is prioritized to that which they feel is important, and the time they are willing to give you will be based upon where you fit in that hierarchy. If you are a "one time a year wonder" who pesters people only annually in October, or even worse, waits until people contact you for a presentation, your fire prevention program will not be very successful and your firefighters placed at additional risk.

So this New Year make your resolution to change this and increase your prevention/public outreach and adopt it as an overall operational priority for your department. Not only are your efforts going to produce results in the reduction of fires and risk, but your department's exposure to those you serve, thus increasing the awareness of your department's capability and your value to those who hold the purse strings. This is not the traditional approach to fire services which has largely placed its value in suppression and response - but again, it is the new year!

To accomplish this, look beyond just the fire causes; such as overloaded outlets or candles. Look deeper into the dynamics of your community in terms of not just the causes of fire, but also the culture, the economics, the social issues, and how that may all relate back to the fire problem and how you can help provide resolutions to it. Simply saying that unattended cooking in a particular community is the leading cause of fire and planning on handing out cooking safety pamphlets is simply not enough. You need to have more information on these citizens and of their situation. You need to have an understanding of the problem, not only at its face value, but the dynamics of it all.

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