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.

As I have discussed in all my previous articles, I believe that the federal government, through their various federal grants, could be a great impetus for change and could have a significant impact in decreasing the economic devastations caused by fire. In doing so, it will save lives too, both civilians and firefighters. The key for long term success is making sure that the mighty dollar is best utilized to bring about tangible positive results. We must take measures that have a direct positive impact in reducing the fire fatalities and decreasing the economic burdens of fire in our country.

This of course, is by no means a new concept and I am not the first one to talk about it either. Much smarter fire service leaders, back in the 1987 America Burning Revisited report, discussed the very same concept and stated "Government and other institutions can encourage fire safety by offering financial incentives (i.e. tax rebates or reductions) to those who do not have fires, practice fire safety behavior or install automatic fire protection systems."

And no, they didn't just come to this conclusion out of the clear blue sky either. They saw that there were other successful examples of where the federal government, through their federal grant programs, was able to be the impetus of change at the local levels.

Using the federal grants to hold the local governments accountable for implementing improvements is what the federal government has done quite well through many of their national agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), just to name a few.

Let's take a look at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for example. Based on the information provided on their website, EPA is responsible for researching and setting national standards for a variety of environmental programs, and delegates to the states and tribes the responsibility for issuing permits and for monitoring and enforcing compliance. Where national standards are not met, EPA can issue sanctions and take other steps to assist the states and tribes in reaching the desired levels of environmental quality.

EPA delegates the responsibility to the states and then through their federal grants and sanctions program they seek compliance with the national standards. I ask myself if it works well for them, then why not for us? Why can't we learn from others and use their successful models to assist us in addressing the fire problem in our country?

I believe that to address the fire problem in our country, similar to the EPA, we should be "setting the national standards", and then through enforcement reach the "desired levels" of safety. Why shouldn't we utilize the federal grants program to require the states and local jurisdictions to comply with the minimum fire and life safety provisions outlined in the most recent edition of the codes and standards developed by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)?

As for setting the national standards, I believe that in the absence of a true set of national building construction codes in our country, it is indeed every states' right and very appropriate for the states to adopt and establish their own building construction code based on the ICC and NFPA codes and standards. But, then these state codes must only be the minimum and not the maximum. Each of the local jurisdictions then has the right to exceed those minimum state codes, but is prohibited to be less restrictive.

Similarly, we could use the federal grant and sanctions program to seek compliance with the national standards. How about requiring that states applying for federal grants must adopt the most recent editions of the building, fire, and construction codes as the base minimum and they should not be less stringent than the minimum requirements of the nationally developed codes?

Why do I suggest this now? Because the national building construction codes establish the minimum levels of protection, thus reducing them even further down could not benefit our communities. It would only help the special interest groups with their financial interests, but would decrease fire protection for our public. And to me, as a fire service member protecting our people and our communities from the wrath of fire is my prime objective.

These special interest groups are on the offensive at the state levels to prevent the states from adopting the 2009 edition of the national building construction codes. Or, as a minimum, their goals is to cherry pick and throw away the fire protection and life safety measures such as the carbon monoxide detectors and the residential fire sprinkler requirements in these codes.