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At a recent breakfast with fire marshals from neighboring communities, the topic of staffing options for their fire prevention bureaus was discussed. It seems the fire departments use different options for staffing their fire prevention bureaus. Each option offers advantages and disadvantages. One thing was apparent: there are a number of staffing options to choose from. The challenge is choosing the best staffing option for your department's fire prevention bureau that will meet the needs of the community you serve and fit the fire department's organizational structure and culture.
Before we discuss fire prevention staffing, we need to consider fire prevention services and organizational structures. A fire prevention bureau manager, fire marshal or fire chief needs to first evaluate where the functions of the division fit into the overall organization before he or she can determine staffing options. The best way to accomplish this is to take a critical look at the mission statement of the fire department. It is essential that the fire prevention services are part of the organization's mission. When the fire department's mission statement includes the roles of the fire prevention bureau, it informs the entire community (customers) of the significance of the bureau. The duties of the fire prevention bureau must not be structured to function independently within the fire department, but to function with the other divisions of the organization. Just like the private sector, each division of the organization must share in the overall mission.
The services provided by a fire prevention bureau will differ from community to community. In some locations, the fire prevention bureau may not be responsible for fire investigations or even fire and life safety education. However, we strongly encourage the fire prevention bureaus perform these functions:
- Fire protection engineering or construction document review
- Fire and life safety education
- Fire inspection and code enforcement
- Public information responsibilities
- Pre-incident planning
- Fire investigations
- Occupant services (post-fire services, after the fire)
- Wildland risk management
The driving force of the size and complexity of a fire prevention bureau is dictated by the level of services it will provide to the community it serves. It is our firm belief the ideal structure of the fire prevention bureau should have the person responsible for the fire prevention bureau reporting directly to the fire chief. A direct report to the fire chief is critical to enable the chief to ensure the mission of the department and a strategic plan reflects the needs of the fire prevention bureau. This also ensures the fire chief is aware of the issues facing the fire prevention bureau that may involve him or her at a later date. (For an in-depth discussion of fire prevention bureau structures please see Establishing Fire Prevention Bureaus Part I and II by visiting http://cms.firehouse.com/content/contributor/bio.jsp?id=140 and the book Fire Prevention Applications by Lacey and Valentine available at Fire Protection Publications, Stillwater, OK.)
Fire prevention bureaus are in the service business. The greatest resource of any fire prevention bureau is its people. The old adage of the fire prevention bureau is a repository for the sick, lame and lazy is a thing of the past. The fire prevention bureau is no longer the dumping ground for troubled employees. There are no longer just three types of sprinklers and pipe scheduled designs! The complexity of the fire alarm and sprinkler systems combined with technological advances in performance-based design makes the fire prevention bureau one of the most technical positions in the fire department. The present demands placed on fire prevention bureaus call for a technically well-trained and motivated staff.