Tough Economic Times Require Tough Fire Prevention Decisions - Part 1

It seems the trend for the quick fix is to reduce fire prevention and other municipal staff by consolidating inspection personnel with the building department.At a recent meeting of area fire marshals, many were struggling with tightening budgets. Most...


It seems the trend for the quick fix is to reduce fire prevention and other municipal staff by consolidating inspection personnel with the building department.

At a recent meeting of area fire marshals, many were struggling with tightening budgets. Most fire departments operate such a lean budget there are no significant funds to cut in the operating budget such as commodities, supplies, etc. Almost 85 percent to 90 percent of a fire department budget is personnel so the only way to make significant reductions is to reduce personnel.

It seems the trend for the quick fix is to reduce fire prevention and other municipal staff by consolidating inspection personnel with the building department. Even some fire marshal positions are being eliminated along with reduction in fire suppression personnel. Sure this is a quick fix to balance the budget sheet but the long term impact of reduction in any fire department personnel can be devastating to the services we provide.

As fire service professionals, we continually struggle with having enough people to perform our tasks. This two-part article will examine some questions we must ask ourselves during tightened budgets and how to address being presented with a reduction in force directive.

Can You Justify Your Existence?
Fire prevention divisions perform a variety of services from construction document review, inspections, fire and life safety education and fire investigations. Fire prevention bureaus must do more than just inspections and we need to document the time and services we provide to our customers, both internal and external. We need to focus our efforts to carve our niche in the community we serve.

The primary customers of fire prevention division are the citizens we serve. However, fire prevention divisions must support their internal customer. Internal customers consist of suppression personnel, the municipal building department and the municipal public works department. (Depending on your organization the number and type of internal customers may vary.) The primary internal customer is the fire department's operation and training division.

One of the outcomes of an effective fire prevention program is reducing fire fighter injuries and fire fighter deaths. The elimination of dangerous conditions in a structure is one of the many accomplishments of a fire prevention bureau. This can be accomplished through the fire prevention bureau by overseeing the fixed systems in a building, ensuring adequate fire department access to the building as well as ensuring sufficient number of hydrants. Many refer to this as "shaping the battlefield". Fire prevention must support fire department operations. An effective fire prevention bureau will enable great fire department operations. When the budget discussion of cutting the fire prevention bureau takes place, the outcome will be more than fewer inspections conducted.

What Is The Community's Perception Of The Fire Prevention Division?

Most fire departments are governed by an elected body in the form of a district board or municipal board. The community we serve has the greatest chance to come in contact with the fire department through our emergency medical service or fire prevention efforts. How we interact with the community when we perform our service will determine the community's perception of our department's service. Remember the community will have the greatest voice to the elected officials if they choose to close fire stations or reduce fire prevention personnel. Customer service is extremely important and sometimes difficult to portray in the fire prevention environment. We all have met the "badge heavy" inspector during our careers who demands immediate compliance on every violation he or she encounters.

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