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?

"With regard to the relative emphasis given to prevention and response capabilities, the Panel must follow the lead of national panels of experts and the advice of others interviewed during the course of this study. Those who know most about the fire problem have repeatedly emphasized that, in many situations, at the margin, increased emphasis on proven fire prevention approaches will have greater benefits for fire safety than further improvements in fire response capability."

The importance of focusing on fire prevention in addressing our country's fire problem was clearly acknowledged in the 1947 President's Conference on Fire Prevention; and then strongly emphasized on by the 1973 America Burning report where they promoted a balanced approach between fire prevention and suppression by stating:

"There needs to be more emphasis on fire prevention. Fire departments, many of which confine their roles to putting out fires and rescuing its victims, need to expend more efforts to educate children on fire safety, to educate adults through residential inspections, to enforce fire prevention codes, and to see that fire safety is designed into buildings...The commission recommends that local governments make fire prevention at least equal to suppression in the planning of fire department priorities."

Now, even though certainly logical, I personally don't advocate dedicating 50 percent of all our local budgets or the AFG Program to the fire prevention programs. I am a realist. By all means, give the lions share of the local resources and AFG Programs to the operations side. But then logic dictates that if we are indeed serious about reducing fire fatalities and losses in our country, then we must be proactive and should focus more on the fire prevention and public education priorities, and must increase our spending and dedicate more of our fire grants to fire prevention.

After all, that is where we will be most effective in reducing the fatalities and fire losses. So wouldn't it make sense to shift our priorities just a tad and focus more on our prevention effort; so that we can justify the cost savings to our taxpayers who are footing the bill for the AFG Program?

I am well aware that our attempts in 2010 will be merely focused on the reauthorization of the AFG Program. And that we don't want to open up the entire fire grant package to go through the Congressional process again. Because once we open that "Pandora's Box", we won't know what we will end up with, even if anything at all, especially during these tough economic times. But I have two suggestions:

1. The governing statutes for the AFG Program include a requirement that no less than 5 percent of the appropriated funds support the fire prevention and safety activities. If I am not mistaken, I believe that is only a minimum amount, and there is no set limit for the maximum. I believe that a mere reduction of 5 percent from the suppression side (which is very small), to be given to the fire prevention side, would literally mean doubling the fire prevention grants. Never mind the 1973 America Burning recommendations; let's split the pie 90 percent to 10 percent.

Give 10 percent to fire prevention and keep the 90 percent for the operations side. In my mind, doubling the fire prevention grants will have a direct positive impact in reducing the total annual fire losses in our country. And I don't believe that we have to go through the Congressional approval process for this minor administrative readjustment. If we are serious about reducing fire losses in our country, why not put our money where our mouth is?

2. This is a tad more complex and might need Congressional approval. And that is to eliminate the burden of the cost sharing and matching funds for the fire departments applying for the fire prevention grants. Currently, fire departments are responsible for sharing the project cost of the fire prevention grants under a specific statutory formula which is proportional to their populations served.

Another quotation from Einstein shouldn't be necessary to prove that this is a major deterrent for all fire departments across the country to apply for the fire prevention grants. After all, as we all know unfortunately too well, during the tough economic times such as the one we are facing now, the fire prevention and public education programs are the very first victims of the budget cuts.