The Missing Links

We need a systematic organizational approach that could result in reduction of our annual national fire fatalities and our fire losses.

Cut out the middleman. When shopping, never mind the retailers and their added-on profit margins. Just go straight to the wholesalers and you can save more. Each layer of management just adds more bureaucracy, and skims off their presumed share of the resources before passing it down. So then, eliminate the unnecessary middle management, and not only do you save time and avoid the bureaucratic aggravation but most importantly, you can plug up a drain that unnecessarily depletes the scarce resources.

These sound like great ideas if you want to stretch your dollar and maximize your buying power or enhance the organizational efficiency, don't they? Just like everything else in life, there are pros and cons associated with any approach that we take.

For example, bypassing the middleman doesn't sound too logical in the incident command system (ICS), does it? Never mind all those sections, branches, divisions, groups, strike teams and the task forces drawn up on the board, just go straight to the units.

That simply is unacceptable in our fireground operations, and such actions would not be tolerated and is considered freelancing, right? Then why should we look at it any other way, when it comes to addressing the fire problem in our country? The bigger the problem, the more important is the application of the ICS. And, believe me, the magnitude of the fire problem in our country demands that we apply a well-structured, organized, and systematic approach in addressing it.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fire loss reports and statistics reveal the true magnitude of the fire problem in our country. NFPA "Fires in the United States During 2007" indicates that there were 1,557,500 fires. Their report titled "U.S. Fire Department Profile Through 2007" states that there an estimated 30,185 fire departments in our country that are tasked with protecting our population and responding to those fires.

And their most recent report about the annual cost of fire titled "The Total Cost of Fire in the United States" published February 2008, 2005, indicates that "for 2005, that total cost is estimated at $267-294 billion, or roughly 2 to 2.5% of U.S. gross domestic product." These 2005 statistic are NFPA's most recent figures, and undoubtedly their future reports will depict a higher number for the more recent years.

Based on our annual fire loss statistics, it should be evident that not having a well structured organizational mechanism and solid game plan to address the national fire problem means that each of us are just doing our own little thing in our own backyards, which is nothing short of freelancing in my mind.

It is not about the level of love, commitment and dedicated efforts, you know. After all, don't freelancers put their whole heart and might into their efforts and respond to fires with high determination and filled with commitment? Sure they do. They are just trying to do their best. But then from our organizational perspective would that be considered an acceptable practice? No.

The good news is that we are no stranger to the concept of national disasters, especially in the recent years. And as a result we have better organized ourselves, and have more cooperation at the various levels of government, which has enabled us to have a much faster and well-coordinated response to such emergencies.

Back in 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that resulted in 1,836 deaths and $81.2 billion damage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was restructured to better prepare it for the future disasters. As a direct result of the high quality of leadership at the top, the organizational strength and inter-agency cooperation at all levels of government, FEMA is now much better prepared. And their great job in responding to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike last year attest to their improvements.

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