It's Not Only 'We Can,' but 'We Must'

All major corporations and organizations are responsible for their bottom-line and have some sort of accountability mechanisms and clear performance measures, so then why shouldn't we?

Needs Assessment
A majority of the estimated 30,185 fire departments in our country are inadequately funded at the local levels. Thus, the continuation of the AFG Program is of utmost importance in protecting our communities. The recent NFPA report titled "U.S. Fire Department Profile Through 2007", published in November 2008, is a good reflection of the challenges facing us in the fire service.

Based on this report, 72 percent of the 1,148,800 firefighters in our country are volunteers, and 95 percent of them protect fewer than 2,500 people. They simply don't have a large enough tax base to adequately provide for their needs. The alarming statistic is the drop in the rate of volunteer firefighters per thousand people protected population, which has decreased from 4.35 in 1986 to 3.81 in 2007.

The remaining 28 percent of our country's fire service are the career firefighters. Statistics show that they have been stretched thin and, despite the overall steady growth since 1986, the rate of the career firefighters per thousand people protected has remained virtually unchanged for the past two decades and is about 1.74. So, although we have a lot more tasks on our "to do" list now, and have a more urban population to protect; from the staffing perspective we are still behind the eight-ball just as we were two decades ago. And it is quite evident from all the downsizing across the country that unfortunately this situation is deteriorating even further.

Obviously, the fact that we were successful in establishing the AFG Program in the first place is indicative of our expertise in utilizing the above mentioned statistics to depict our needs. But, I think that the current tough economic times demand that if we want to enhance our odds for the AFG Program reauthorization, then we must add yet another dimension to our needs assessment justifications.

I believe that we must wash away the complacency of years, and start to better educate our politicians about the true magnitude of the annual total cost of fire in our country. And do that, not just by dry statistics, but putting those statistics in perspective by comparing them with the other significant current national events that have filled our daily prime time news. That way, the decision-makers have a much better appreciation for what we do, and hopefully recognize our needs based on the magnitude of the work yet to be done.

As I have indicated in most of my previous articles, based on the most recent NFPA statistics about the total cost of fire in America which is from 2005 "for 2005, that total cost is estimated at $267-294 billion, or roughly 2 to 2 1/2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product".

To show the true magnitude of the economic impact of fire on our country, let our politicians know that the $294 billion annual cost of fire in our country is about 42 percent of the cost for the recent $700 billion economic bailout. Let them know that $294 billion, breaks down to about $24.5 billion a month, which is more than twice the $10 to 12 billion monthly cost of war in Iraq, that our newly elected president used in opposing the war during his election campaign.

Educate them about the true economic magnitude and impact of fire in our country, year in and year out. Let them see that compared to the cost of fire, their expenditure on the AFG Program, is merely a drop in the bucket. Yet a drop, that we in the fire service so desperately need.

Although the federal fire grants are a far cry from the systematic sustained funding that fire service needs to improve our service delivery at the local levels we do definitely need this continued governmental support to be able to better protect our communities. Let them know that their investment on us by reauthorizing the AFG Program has a good rate of return and will decrease the adverse economic impacts of fire.

Good Rate Of Return
We must prove to our public and the policymakers that our benefits far outweigh our costs. We must be in the black and have a net positive value; which means that we must save more for our public than we cost them. It is rather a simple cost benefit analysis. For the AFG Program to be around in the future, we must take measures that have a direct positive impact on reducing the fire losses and fire fatalities in our country. We must show tangible results.