We Reap the Harvest We Sow

When the frequency of an occurrence is drastically increased,  the exposure is prolonged or when the magnitude and impact of an incident are quite significant, people impacted tend to adjust and become desensitized after a while. It has a numbing...

But amongst all those, one of them in particular caught my eye recently. What was different about this one was the fact that there were many other fire service organizations that stood in solidarity and by the side of the organization whose budget was slashed. That I believe is admirable and a good example for us all to remember.

On Jan. 8, 2010, I was reading the Daily Dispatch news on the Western Fire Chiefs Associations website, and I saw a posting by the Arizona Fire Chiefs Association's (AFCA) titled "Division News From Arizona - Suspension of State Fire Marshal Programs." Do please use the two links attached below, and read the news release and the Memo in its entirety.

Briefly, due to the financial problems that the State of Arizona is currently facing, a very severe budget cut was imposed on the Arizona Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM). On Jan. 7 OSFM issued a memorandum that announced a reduction in staff and indicated that they are suspending the majority of their inspections, abolishing their training and certification programs and, along with the many other tasks eliminated, they will no longer support or offer assistance for the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS).

Under the umbrella of the Arizona Fire Service Institute (AFSI), which is comprised of Arizona Fire Chiefs Association, Arizona Fire Districts Association, Professional Firefighters of Arizona, Volunteer Fire Fighters of Arizona, and the Metro Fire Chiefs Section objected to this budget cut, and were adamantly opposed to the suspension of the OSFM programs.

They clearly recognized the fact that the severe budget cut that the bean-counters had imposed on the OSFM, could have serious adverse impacts not only on the public, but also on the firefighters. Training and certification programs are an essential part of the firefighters' qualifications and development.

The lack of which would have adverse impact on the safety of the public. And, the fire prevention role that the OSFM plays, is of utmost importance to the very many communities large and small across the state.

But we must ask, do the top policy and decision-makers realize that? I am not talking about this specific case in Arizona either, since what is happening there could happen to most of us in many other states.

Are the state legislators and elected officials aware of what is truly at stake? Do they clearly understand what we do, day-in and-day-out? Do they realize the long-term impact and consequences of their decisions on the safety of our communities?

Is our public fully aware of these issues? Would the public be willing to jeopardize their own safety and the safety of their communities by eliminating essential public safety programs?

In my mind, the key then is to focus our efforts on better educating our public and our elected officials ahead of time. We must provide them with a true community risk assessment and fire loss management plan. This will allow them to make well-informed decisions based on the community's needs and the availability of current resources while being fully cognizant of the long-term impacts of such decisions.

I believe that is exactly what we must do right now, before the budget axe drops.   It is more important now than ever before, for the fire service to self-promote and better educate our public and the elected officials, about the importance of all of the various fire prevention, suppression, and the emergency medical response services that we provide; lack of which would undoubtedly impact the safety of our public one way or other. Our public should be fully aware of the impact of the policy-makers' decisions and decide whether they would be willing to accept the consequences of those decisions for many decades to come. Once again, being proactive is the key.

But then, there are times that we are forced to merely react.

Remember, that we reap the harvest that we sow, right? If we are behind the eight-ball, what should we do then?

Take it on the chin and accept the loss or play the cards that we are dealt, and do the best that we can under the circumstances? As they say, can we make lemonade out of the lemons?

I believe that the leadership and the unified actions of the fire service organizations in Arizona gave us a good example of how to deal with such adverse situations.