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As budget time approaches, a number of fire departments will yet again request thermal imagers (TIs). Many departments will struggle to convince their budgetary authorities to fund the request. TIs may be removed from the budget either because department leaders themselves are not completely "sold" on the need for TIs or because they are unable to convince budgetary authorities that TIs are necessary firefighting tools. For fire department leaders to budget and win more TIs, they must take three critical steps: communicate the value, make it personal and give them numbers.
Communicate the Value
Budgeting is a difficult process of balancing priorities. The process demands that certain funding requests are reduced or eliminated, and leadership will ensure that the highest priority items are not sacrificed. One key element to convincing decision-makers to prioritize TIs is to explain thoroughly the benefits of this technology in firefighting.
- Benefit 1: Firefighter safety
It is a proven fact that TIs save firefighter lives and dramatically reduce the risk of injury on the job. Thermal imaging technology aids firefighters in identifying compromised truss roofs and deciding to evacuate fire companies prior to collapse. Firefighters using TIs have discovered missing floor sections prior to entering a room or hallway. Rapid intervention teams equipped with TIs have found lost or injured firefighters in seconds, rather than minutes, leading them quickly to safety.
Department leadership must understand, accept and then convince authorities of the value and need for TIs. If leaders believe TIs are critical firefighting tools, they will be more successful in defending the expenditure.
Make It Personal
Whether you demonstrate the technology with a borrowed TI or through the use of a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, speak to the priorities of your audience and direct your presentation to them personally.
Describe a fire or emergency in the homes or businesses of the people in the audience. Show them how you search for victims in structure fires without thermal imaging. Explain the tactics you use to gain control of a fire without the aid of thermal imaging. Tell them about the dangers of burning buildings for firefighters in your community. Ensure the audience understands how difficult your job can be without a TI.
Go through each scenario again, using visual aids and real incident photos where possible to demonstrate how TIs make your job easier. If possible, put a thermal imager in the hands of budgetary authorities. Communities around the country have successfully convinced decision-makers by simulating search and rescue situations. Whether your demonstration is conducted in a training structure or in a dark room, your goal is for participants to experience the difficulty of searching in smoke versus the ease of searching with a TI. To clarify the value, time the participants as they search with and without a TI. Show them how much time they saved with a TI.
Give Them Numbers
Emotional appeals for money rarely survive the budget process. To demonstrate that an expenditure is valuable and justifiable, department leadership must convince budgetary authorities that the perceived benefits of the expenditure outweigh the proposed cost. With some diligent research, any fire department should be able to estimate cost savings to the community by measuring past statistics and projecting how the use of TIs would impact the numbers. In calculating community costs, consider the following:
- Reduced fire losses leading to reduced insurance rates;
- Improved overhaul leading to less damaged structural material and less material in local landfills during the rebuilding phase;
- Reduced firefighter injuries leading to lower workman's compensation expenses;
- Reduced time on scene, leading to lower cost of operations for each incident;
- Improved water use leading to lower water costs, less runoff and reduced environmental concerns;
- Anything else with tangible value that is improved through TI usage.