Money Talks

The fire service needs to focus more on the economics of fire while communicating with local government on the costs of fire damage.


We have all heard about what happens when money talks.

That saying is a clear depiction of what really matters most when it comes to substance. It attests to the true power of the mighty dollar, even at this day and age when our economy is not as strong as in the years past.

That is the precise reason why, in all my articles, I focus more extensively on the national economic impact of fire. Of course, just like the rest of my peers in the fire service, saving lives and protecting our public is my most important concern and primary objective. But, let's face it; to the bean-counters and the policy-makers of the world, the mighty dollar speaks much louder and with better clarity.

To us, saving lives and rescuing the helpless babies from the burning building means the most. But, to the budgeting people and the decision-makers, the fact that there were 3,430 civilian fire deaths in 2007, and the home fires accounted for 2,865 (84 percent) of that, doesn't have the same deep meaning as it does for us. And that my friends, is quite logical if you view them as mere statistics.

After all, when you compare our national fire fatality statistics with other statistics, it seems rather insignificant. For example back in 2007, there were an estimated 12,988 people killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes. And, of course, there are plenty of other types of national fatality statistics that are even significantly higher than the alcohol-impaired fatalities. So then, if the fatality statistics alone were to be the primary factor for establishing the societal expenditure priorities, fire service would be somewhere at the bottom of the pile, wouldn't it?

But then, the adverse economic impacts of fire are quite significant and can not be easily ignored. And that is the exact angle that we must focus on when dealing with the elected officials and the decision-makers at all levels of government. We in the fire service need to better understand their logic to be able to better communicate with them. To them, money talks. So let's talk money with them.

National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) March 2009 report titled "The Total Cost of Fire in the United States" indicates that "in 2006, the total cost of fire was an estimated $317 billion or 2.8 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)." Now, that is not chump change, is it?

Logically, these types of economic statistics should grab the attention of the bean-counters and decision-makers, shouldn't it? There are those who will say no. They say that they believe as a result of decisions made by irresponsible, unaccountable, self-centered policy-makers, we are facing the recent economic failures that have broken all the paradigms and has dragged us into a new low; where even the term "billion" has lost its true significance and value. They would say that nothing is going to wake up those decision-makers and make them smell the coffee. After all, if they had the foresight, and were not so focused on their own immediate gains, we would not be in the pickle that we are in now.

But, I think otherwise. I am an optimist at heart. I believe that if anything at all is going to grab the decision-makers' attention, make them see the light and recognize the true magnitude of the fire problem in our country, it is the good old mighty dollar. The mighty dollar plays a role on both sides of the loss/gain equation. For the decision-makers, the evaluations are merely based on the cost/benefit analysis. Logically, if the benefits and savings far outweigh the costs, then the expenditures are well justified. A good rate of return on the investment, or as they say "the biggest bang for the buck," would make our case much more attractive for the decision-makers at both the local and national levels of government. We must have a net positive value, which means that we must save more for our public than we cost them.

The concept should work at all levels of government, local and national. The focus of this article though, is on the national level and the impact that the national decisions could have at the local levels.

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