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.

Why can't we do the same? Our economic loses are much greater than the floods and we lose more lives in fires. So why can't FEMA who already has the means and the organizational structure to implement such policies do the same for us on the fire side of the house?

Just take a look at the following 2007 fire loss statistics from the NFPA and then decide for yourself if these statistics warrant similar federal incentive programs to address the fire problem.

"In 2007, U.S. fire departments responded to 399,000 home structure fires. These fires caused 13,600 civilian injuries, 2,865 civilian deaths, $7.4 billion in direct damage...In 2007, home structure fires caused 84% of the civilian fire deaths and 77% of the civilian fire injuries. Homes include one-and two-family dwellings, apartments, townhouses, row houses, and manufactured homes...Sprinklers decrease the fire death rate per 1,000 reported residential fires by 77% and the average loss per residential fire by 63%."

If FEMA's flood program works well, then we should use that same concept to help address the fire problem in our country too. Look at it this way, although the "community participation in the NFIP is voluntary", jurisdictions who want to receive the benefits would have to adopt and enforce the nationally adopted codes. Call it incentive or disincentive, it works, and the local communities "voluntarily" participate by adopting and enforcing those codes.

Why can't we do that? Now, imagine if we had that in place. Do you think that the state legislatures would opt for losing their federal grants just to appease the special interest groups opposing the residential fire sprinklers? I believe that having a similar federal grant (incentive/disincentive) program could be a valuable tool to persuade the states to not fall for the NAHB's manipulations.

Einstein had said that "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it". We need to elevate and enhance our level of consciousness by "thinking outside the box" and learning from the successful examples of others. We need to establish similar types of performance measurements and qualification guidelines that would encourage the states to adopt and enforce the most recent editions of the nationally developed building construction codes to qualify for receiving federal grants. Without it, the special interest groups will keep on eroding the construction codes to suit their own financial needs and that would only result in prolongation of the fire problem in our country.

To succeed in the long run, we need to work from all directions, top to bottom, and even more importantly the grassroots efforts all the way from the bottom to the top. As I have mentioned in all of my previous articles, I strongly believe in public education. In educating our public, organizations such as the Common Voices (the recent recipient of the Senator Paul S. Serbanes Fire Service Safety Leadership Award at the CFSI) could play a very significant role.

Common Voices could follow the successful example of yet another nationally well-known grassroots life safety organization, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). After decades of hard work, MADD was successful in their efforts and all states eventually adopted the National Minimum Drinking Age act of 1984 or they would be subjected to a 10% decrease in their annual federal highway apportionment.

My friends, my intent for bringing up the NFIP example wasn't the establishment of a national fire insurance program. That example was only mentioned along with the MADD example just to show that there are also other ways that we, in the fire service, need to explore if we are serious about addressing the fire problem in our country. I am sure there are plenty more examples once we put our minds to it and do more research.

Education is the key, and that starts first with our own in the fire service. Once again Einstein's views are quite applicable where he said "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." And, questioning is what we need to do. It should be the very first step in our quest to finding the solutions.