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?

And that is the same type of concern that Bill Webb made in another article titled "And Now for Something Completely Different." Webb says "The fire service needs to make sure that the programs that are out there are having a positive impact. We need to start seeing more reduction in the number of deaths and injuries in the fire service. We need to make sure that every dollar awarded to the fire service is properly used and we can point to positive results."

I believe that to be able to better prepare our case for reauthorization of the AFG Program in 2010, it might be of value if we all read the report titled "Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program: Assessing Performance", published on April 2007, by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This is a very valuable report with a very positive stance toward the fire grant and supports its continuation.

"Above all, given the nation's heavy reliance on local community support for fire departments and other emergency services, the AFG program must continue to give great deference to local assessments of risk and assistance needs, provided they are based on an adequate community risk assessment methodology."

But, even this report posed concerns, raised questions, and pointed out various shortcomings that we must be prepared to address to be successful in protecting the fire grants. Take a look at the following excerpts, and remember that these recommendations are coming from friends supportive of us; then just imagine what we could expect from the foes.

"Benefits or effectiveness also must be estimated. It is easier to estimate the program's costs than to estimate whether the program is effective. One first needs to specify in more precise, measurable terms what the program seeks to influence or accomplish. Only when there is some agreement on the goal or goals and how one can measure progress toward these can one ask whether the program's costs appear reasonable in relation to benefits that is, does it help to achieve measurable improvement at a reasonable cost?"

To date the program has set out to improve the capabilities of fire departments. Such capabilities are believed to contribute to improvements in public safety and firefighter safety. Funds are being used mainly to purchase equipment, vehicles, protective gear, and some training and other services intended to improve incident response and to make firefighters safer. From this simple standpoint, the program is effective -- it has improved the asset bases and skill sets of recipient fire departments and thus improved local firefighting capabilities. It is not as clear, however, whether such improvements reduce public and firefighter deaths and injuries, purposes mentioned in the authorizing statute."

I remember a quotation from Einstein that said "everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted". That seems to apply rather well here. We are not focusing where we should be focusing; therefore we are not measuring what we should be measuring.

I believe that our highest professional honor does not stem merely on being a firefighter, but in being a public servant. In my mind, having the trust and respect of our public believing in our professional abilities and expertise to protect them from the wrath of fire and provide them care, is our highest professional honor. With that though, comes the greatest responsibility of all; not to betray their trust in all and anything that we do.

That certainly applies to our fiduciary responsibility to provide our public the highest rate of return on their investment on us. We must give them the "biggest bang for their buck". We must repay their trust by showing that their financial assistance in the form of the AFG Program is having a significant, systematic, direct, positive impact in reducing the fire fatalities and decreasing the economic burdens of the fire in our country.

Establishing A Game Plan
I believe that our mission in the fire service is quite simple, protecting lives and preventing the losses from fires. When asked about the effectiveness of the fire grants in the future, once we establish a solid game plan that provides us with the statistical data that attest to the success of the AFG Programs; then not only then we can clear all misinformation amongst the friends, but most importantly, we can easily fend off any misguided attacks by the foes.