It's a new year…now what? A new year is upon us. At this time of year, people often contemplate lifestyle changes (lose weight, stop smoking, eat healthy), financial changes (invest for retirement, get out of debt, improve income) and even career changes (take the promotional exam, begin/complete secondary education, obtain a new certification). Somewhere deep inside, we like the idea of starting over, turning over a new leaf or, simply put, making changes. There seems to be something magical about "the new year" — something refreshing, inspiring; something that causes us to reflect on the events of the previous year and use those experiences to adjust course and make plans for the coming year.
The tradition of New Year's resolutions dates back to 153 B.C. with Janus, a mythical king of early Rome. With two faces, Janus could simultaneously see past and future events. Janus became a symbol for resolutions and was placed at the beginning of the Roman calendar year, hence January.
So what have we learned in 2010? What can we do to adjust course for 2011? What resolutions will you make?
No issue likely looms larger for 2010 than that of The Great Recession. Consumer confidence plunged to a record low, retail sales plummeted and unemployment rose, creating an immediate impact on municipal coffers. Many municipalities had no choice but to make cuts. These cuts quickly permeated to the fire departments, resulting in widespread destabilization. The overwhelming majority of most fire department budgets is allocated to personnel (a cost that rises annually), leaving little choice as to where these cuts were likely to come from. Layoffs were threatened and, in many cases, executed.
The recession of 2008–2009 was dubbed The Great Recession as it arguably exceeded every other recession on many economic indicators. This country and many of the municipalities therein have not experienced economic conditions like these since the 1930s. While many municipalities and fire departments had contingency plans for recessionary times, the magnitude far exceeded what those plans were designed to cover, leaving many fire departments reeling in uncharted economic waters and no place to turn for help.
The worst may be yet to come from a budgetary standpoint. Property taxes don't usually decline until a reappraisal is done and time frames for these appraisals vary; however, according to the National League of Cities, municipal budgetary recessions often lag the general economy by 18 months to two years, making the second half of 2011 the trough for many fire departments.
Many government finance experts (if there ever were an oxymoron, this would have to be it) are talking about the "new normal." What is the "new normal," you might ask? Well, it implies that there may never be a complete recovery. It encourages leaders to recognize that current budgetary levels may be the "new normal." Lamentations of extended response times, too few personnel and increased risk in the community may not be enough to encourage voters to approve new taxes. Unless the funding issue is resolved, there will be an inability to return to things as they were and instead, we should focus on things as they are.
Efficiency will be a focus for correction. Municipal and fire service leaders will be looking for ways to improve output from the firefighters who are left. Ideas that just a few years ago may have seemed bizarre will now likely be investigated for merit. This is already happening. Many fire service leaders are questioning historic practices based on return on investment. The question seems simple: If I spend money here, will it improve the efficiency of my operations? If the answer is no, it is unlikely to be funded.
Tightly coupled to the question of efficiency must be that of firefighter safety. If there are going to be fewer firefighters on the street and efficiency becomes a focus, then the need for increased focus on firefighter safety has never been greater. The public and many elected officials will challenge policies such as minimum manning, sending fire trucks to assist on EMS calls and "two-in/two-out." The pressure to "produce" will certainly increase because, despite budget declines, calls for service will continue to increase.
So where does thermal imaging play into all of this? Increased efficiency and improved firefighter safety is what thermal imaging is all about. Restoring sight accomplishes both goals. Many people, both firefighters and civilians, have been saved by the use of this technology and lives saved is what this business is all about.
I would suggest a few New Year's resolutions pertaining to thermal imaging:
1. Resolve to use it if you got it. Not some of the time. Not whenever you think it might come in handy. Use it all of the time. Take it with you "just in case." If you are fortunate enough to have a thermal imager, you owe it to yourself, your citizens and your fellow firefighters to use the darn thing!
2. Resolve to incorporate thermal imaging into your training scenarios. If you train like you fight, you will fight like you have trained.
3. If you don't yet own a thermal imager, consider investing. Prices have dropped dramatically in the past few years and many manufacturers offer factory-refurbished units as well, if you simply ask. There are ways to handle the cost, but you must indicate the interest.
4. Consider equipping essential positions such as rapid intervention teams and safety officers with thermal imagers. Again, investing in firefighter safety is never a bad idea.
A 2007 study of New Year's resolutions followed 3,000 people who had committed to at least one resolution in the new year. At the start of the study, 52% of participants identified themselves as confident of success. One year later, only 12% actually achieved their goal.
We can't afford that type of success rate. Where most resolutions are betting with pounds lost, ours is betting with lives lost. The stakes are too high. Repetition and focus are key.
BRAD HARVEY is the Thermal Imaging Product Manager at Bullard. He is a veteran of public safety as a firefighter, police officer and paramedic and is certified through the Law Enforcement Thermographers' Association (LETA) as a thermal imaging instructor. Harvey has worked as a high-angle rescue instructor and is a certified rescue technician and fire instructor. If you have questions about thermal imaging, you may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.