Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Lessons in Funding Emergency Services

Brian Vickers uses the characters of "The Wizard of Oz" to assist fire departments in tracking down new funding sources.


There have been numerous theories as to the underlying theme of the movie "The Wizard of Oz." I'm not here to debate any of those, certainly they weren't thinking of the issues surrounding the funding of emergency services that many years ago. But we can take away a few things from that movie to...


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There have been numerous theories as to the underlying theme of the movie "The Wizard of Oz." I'm not here to debate any of those, certainly they weren't thinking of the issues surrounding the funding of emergency services that many years ago. But we can take away a few things from that movie to give ourselves a little guidance.

The four main themes in the movie certainly parallel our needs in emergency services: heart (Tin Man), courage (Lion), brains (Scarecrow) and of course the overwhelming desire to go home (Dorothy). These emotions and human conditions are familiar to all of us who respond to emergency calls. No one can continually answer the call for help and feel no emotions. Courage shows up on scenes every day all over the world, and if we didn't perform intelligently, we might not be able to go home at the end of the day.

How does this relate to funding for emergency services? First, you have to have some heart to want to make a difference at your department or in your community. To be under-equipped on the front line of any emergency is a gut-wrenching situation. We might leave frustrated that we could have done a better job if we just had X. Those emotions need to be channeled into doing what you can to acquire X, so you need to tap your brains and your courage to go after what funding might be available.

Involving People

None of the characters in the movie could have made the journey to the Wizard on their own. It took the individual strengths of each one of them to achieve the collective goal. In the same manner, no single member of a public safety organization can tackle all of the financial issues facing it. It takes teamwork. In some instances, involving people outside the department could provide added insight that otherwise might not have come to light. One of my favorite sayings is, "You can't think outside the box when you're in it." Involving other members of the community such as bankers, business executives, teachers and others could help. Lots of opportunities exist to do things in a fire or EMS organization and not all of it involves running into burning buildings or treating patients. There are many people looking to volunteer and feel needed who can handle filing, research, computer work or anything else that you may need help with. Fire Corps has shown that people want to help emergency services agencies, but if you don't ask for help, you'll never get any.

One main advantage to using members of the public is that they are also your voters. They can help communicate the needs of the department to the rest of the community to help support initiatives that you want to undertake. They may have more credibility in that sense because they aren't members of the organization, so the rest of the voting public won't receive the message with as much bias as it would if the organization were asking for funding.

Another advantage to outside help is that you find people with real-world business experience. Business managers and executives have to operate within their organization's budgets and perform cost-benefit analyses with projects on a daily basis, so they are well versed in what makes sense and what doesn't in terms of return on investment. They may also know other outlets for finding funding.

You may even have members of your organization who can handle these tasks, but haven't been asked. Find them and involve them. Most people take pride in belonging to an organization. This is especially true when they are given the opportunity to make a real difference across the organization. Money does make the world go around, and very few public safety organizations ever see enough of it to handle every project they would like to implement. There are some well-funded emergency service organizations out there, but that number is easily less than 1% of the total. Most of us have funding issues. So assemble a good team and put the right people together to start down the road of funding.

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