What about the people in your community. Are there any high-risk populations? Do you have a younger population or is your population made up of a mature community? Is your community built-out, that is to say, has all available land be used?
If you have the potential to grow and change, you will be facing a different problem than if your community is stable and established. If you have large, open tracts of farm land with for-sale signs staked out front, stand by for problems.
I can recall a community that grew from a rural township to an active suburban community within the space of a few short years. The only thing that kept the fire department in that community ahead of the growth curve was their strong commitment to planning and anticipating the growth which they expected to see in their town.
A new station was built in an area which was starting to develop. They saw the need and acted in a timely fashion. By the time the new homes arrived, the station was in place and operating. Staff was hired and trained in a timely fashion. The budget grew incrementally as the need for new services arose.
There was another town that decided they needed to build a new fire station to cover the anticipated growth in the north end of their community. Their planning consultant advised them of this fact and even outlined an area that would allow for easy access in all directions. However, they decided to take the go slow approach. They did not want to rush into the future.
Sadly, the people who bought new homes in the vicinity of the proposed station did not want a fire house in their neighborhood. The fire department was met with a level of resistance that had never been envisioned. The station which should have been built by 1991 has yet to be built. A great deal of money went into architectural plans, engineering drawing, and land preparation that never became anything.
The difference between these two communities could not be more obvious. The one group was ready to embrace the future, while the other could not bring itself to change their method of doing business. Your attitude can determine whether you will succeed or not. If you begin the planning process with an open mind and eye to learn what is happening in your community you will probably do well.
However, should you choose to begin planning for the future with your mind made up as to what you think you will need, be prepared for failure. Flexibility is one of the primary keys to success in planning. As you gather the information on your community and your fire department, keep an open mind. Let the data you gather guide the process. Periodic brainstorming sessions will help to keep you planning team involved and interested in the process.
Build bridges to other agencies in your area. Nothing we do in this world occurs in a vacuum. There are many other groups who can help you discover the true nature of your community. There are other groups who will support the effort of your department to protect the citizens in your response district. You do not have all of the answers. You should work to create a team-like operation that will draw a variety of stakeholders into your effort.
When reviewing data be on the lookout for emerging trends. If the number of building permits issued begins to rise, that tells you that growth is coming. But if you don't have friends over in the building department, you might never know that you are on the verge of a rise in the demand for your services.
That is what planning is all about my friends. Remember that you are looking at what will be needed to succeed in the future. None of us can really foresee what the future will bring. However it is better to plan for the possibilities you envision than to be blown about like a leaf in the wind.