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?

Here is a suggestion. What if we could establish a goal of reducing our annual fire losses by a flat 5 percent, and then measure our performance against it? A mere 5 percent reduction in total annual national loss is not an unreasonable or unattainable goal for us, is it? 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?

We are no stranger to performance measurement. As a part of our daily routine, all our tasks are measured to the split seconds. Then why not establish that flat 5 percent loss reduction as a national performance measurement for what really counts, saving lives and reducing losses?

Another quotation from Einstein that "a perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem" is quite applicable to our situation. We measure our response times to the split seconds, yet we don't have a game plan and any performance measurements for reducing our annual fatalities and fire losses. Not too logical, to say the very least.

Let's use the statistics from the NFPA "Fires in the United States During 2007" report to figure out what that 5 percent loss reduction could translate to. That would mean that 172 people would be alive, considering that there were 3,430 civilian fire fatalities. That would mean that 884 civilian fire injuries would be prevented, considering that there were 17,675 civilian fire injuries. The concern for life safety is of utmost importance to us in the fire service, and reducing these civilian fatalities and injuries are the prime reasons for our professional existence.

Now, let's talk about something that can strike a chord with the bean-counters that assist the policymakers in charge of allocating the funds and that is the economic costs. Do the math, and you will see that even a mere 5 percent reduction in our current annual total fire property loss of $14.6 billion alone, would be $730 million. That is more than the $547 million currently allocated for the AFG Program in FY 2007. You see, we could have a net positive value of $183 million every year, at the very least. And then of course, to that if we add the economics costs of the fire injuries and the fatalities translated to dollar values, our net positive value would be much greater.

Don't you think that could serve as a great justification for the continuation of our AFG Program? We could indeed use such statistics to easily silence any critiques, couldn't we? Such statistics would prove that the federal fire grant program has indeed been a major success. It would prove that the annual savings from the decrease of the total annual fire property loss alone would be more than the annual cost of the federal fire grant program. That would be a good rate of return on the federal fire grants investment, won't you say? What better way to insure the continuity of the AFG Program, than to have such statistics highlighting our accomplishments, proving that the program is paying for itself?

Performance measurement is essential to our success. To realize the importance of performance measurement, take a look at Ron Coleman's great article titled "Stats are More Than Inside Baseball" where he states: "What gets measured, gets done. If someone is keeping track of performance, then someone else is probably doing everything he or she can to meet that expectation....The phenomenon of performance measurement in the fire service is nothing new. More than 20 years ago, public officials recognized that performance measurement would be either embraced by or forced upon government. Notwithstanding wholesale failures of various levels of government to actually do much with performance measurement, the more successful fire organizations today use performance measures as if they were playing in Major League Baseball."

Then the question that must be answered is whether we are going to do the performance measurements ourselves, or wait for it to be imposed on us? Remember, what Ron is talking about is not measuring statistics, just for the sake of keeping them. Even in baseball, one can not expect winning without a strategy and well thought through game plan. What Ronny is talking about is measuring our performance and effectiveness with respect to accomplishing the overall game plan. It should be obvious that we need to have a good game plan, if we want to succeed in not only preserving our AFG Program, but most importantly to address the fire problem in our country.