Tough Economic Times Require Tough Fire Prevention Decisions - Part 2

One of the key challenges has been the paradigm shift of viewing fire prevention as a fundamental element and key function of fire protection services rather than a function that simply supports the line.


One of the key challenges has been the paradigm shift of viewing fire prevention as a fundamental element and key function of fire protection services rather than a function that simply supports the line.

In our last article we ended it discussing the importance of customer service, enhancing professional relationships and maintaining focus on our job. We also discussed the justification of our job, and the importance of our mission to the safety of firefighters and the public through the performance of our work. All of these items are important to remember albeit difficult sometimes, particularly when we are downtrodden and discouraged.

History
We have worked so hard, year after year, particularly after the publication of America Burning, to enhance and foster a holistic fire prevention attitude and elevate the status of its importance. One of the key challenges has been the paradigm shift of viewing fire prevention as a fundamental element and key function of fire protection services rather than a function that simply supports the line.

In the last article we spoke of supporting the line, which is important, however, we must emphasize that fire prevention should never be viewed as a support function of the line. Our professional and career objective should be to mitigate and prevent hostile fires so that emergency suppression functions are unnecessary. Obviously for a number of reasons (principally economics) this will not be achievable in our communities in the near future; however, for those nay Sayers we would highlight the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) emphasis on fire prevention and mitigation.

At the start of the Apollo program, a significant fire event occurred which cost the lives of three astronauts. This resulted in wholesale changes in design and processes regarding fire safety. As a result, we have not seen a significant event related to a hostile fire in a program related shuttle or space station. The reason is because of the dedicated and focused work on fire prevention practices and engineering. It is impossible to call an earthly fire department to respond to outer space to put out a fire, therefore, NASA designs and programs fire out of its mission. Given the proportional money, we could likely eliminate the same threat in our communities. However, that money will not come and therefore we must utilize a balanced approach, a "systems approach" to fire protection and prevention.

The unfortunate part of this is that many community leaders and fire chiefs do not understand the relationship and impact dedicated fire prevention efforts have had on the fire problem. They will typically turn to the statistics that show a dramatic downturn in fire incident rates, voicing their perception that based on the numbers; there is no significant fire problem. This forces and justifies the question of why they should spend so much on prevention efforts when there is no issue to prevent? The reality is, these same people have forgotten or maybe never knew what America's fire problem was like before the landmark efforts were made to correct the most serious fire experience in the industrialized world during that time. The frustrating part is that awareness and education of the need for these positive achievements will take time, probably more than we have available before cuts must occur.

Focus and Mission
Given that cuts and reductions will likely occur, how do we continue to pursue the prevention and mitigation mission? What is reality? How do we prioritize tasks to identify those to eliminate? How do we deal with morale and attitudes? How do we prepare for the latent effects? Most important though, how do we strategize efforts in the future to minimize or eliminate these cuts and eliminations of fire prevention functions?

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