Changing Paradigms For The Fire Service And For Training

The evolution in the role of the contemporary fire department that has occurred in recent years is well understood by members of the fire service. Unfortunately, the expanded mission of most contemporary fire departments has not been fully understood...

As fire instructors, we have the awesome responsibility, of preparing the members of the fire service, both in and outside of the classroom, to be prepared to effectively, efficiently and safely respond to whatever challenges they may face at the incidents to which they are called. We must be change agents. We must ensure that each and every member of an emergency service organization recognizes the importance of having the necessary training, including as a minimum awareness level training in both hazardous materials and terrorism response.

Since September 11, 2001, I have received numerous requests from local and national media to assess our level of preparedness for responding to acts of terrorism. The public shares these concerns about response preparedness and capabilities. Your department may have already been questioned by the media, the public or elected officials regarding your level of preparedness. Now is the time to be honest with your stakeholders and yourself. If you need additional training, make arrangements to receive it. If you need additional resources, prepare your justification and present your case.

I have also been asked by many fire officers what they can do to enhance their level of readiness. My response to such a question is to objectively examine your organization. What are your organizational strengths and weaknesses? What generic and specific threats do you face? What is your level of confidence that you are prepared to address these threats in an effective and safe manner.

Regardless of how prepared you discover your department is, you must continually strive to become better. This mandate of successful contemporary business organizations must become the battle cry of our nation's emergency response organizations. To do anything less is to fail our stakeholders, including our emergency responders and their families.

I would offer the following suggestions as you ensure the "battle readiness" of your fire department or other emergency response organization to respond to terrorist attacks and other large-scale incidents:

Assess Your Preparedness (Readiness)

  • Be objective
  • Consider generic and specific threats
  • Review existing community emergency response plans
  • Evaluate working relationships with other agencies
  • Evaluate human resources and training
  • Review existing equipment
  • Benchmark with other fire departments

Enhance Your Preparedness (Readiness)

  • Identify training needs
  • Schedule training
  • Enhance multidisciplinary planning initiatives
  • Justify and request needed resources
  • Prepare and submit grant proposals
  • Establish/enhance working relationships with other agencies
  • Prepare for the use of unified command
  • Conduct exercises

Working with Elected Officials

  • Share readiness information
  • Request needed resources and support
  • Involve elected officials
  • Provide them with "ownership" of public safety role
  • Ask for only what you really need
  • Secure assistance in seeking grants

Working with the Media

  • Build positive working relationships
  • Offer up appropriate personnel for interviews
  • Realize that radio and television use short "sound bites"
  • Refer to appropriate sources when you cannot or should not address particular issues
  • Anticipate both easy and difficult questions
  • Realize that their job is to "get the news"

Working with the Public

  • Be patient, realizing that many individuals may approach you with the same question or concern
  • Be prepared to provide information and make referrals as appropriate
  • Take the opportunity to "sell" your fire department and educate the public regarding your mission and the services that you provide
  • Realize that there is a high degree of public concern at this time
  • Identify designated individuals to field questions or concerns from the public

Working with Fire Department Members

  • Ensure that all personnel have current training
  • Require all personnel to have a minimum of hazardous materials and terrorism awareness training
  • Develop and implement operating guidelines for response to suspected terrorist events
  • Ensure that all personnel have and utilize necessary personal protective equipment
  • Emphasize and expect safety in all operations and evolutions
  • Ensure that all officers have the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to ensure the safety of response personnel