As Firehouse Sees It: The State of the Fire Service

In this issue we continue our series of in-depth interviews with chief officers from around the nation. This month’s installment features Chief William “Shorty” Bryson of Miami-Dade, FL, Fire Rescue. Having previously served in the City of Miami, Bryson – who spoke during the Chiefs/Commissioners Panel at the recent Firehouse Expo in Baltimore – moved practically right next door to his current assignment within Miami-Dade County. The other participants on the panel were Chief Robert Ray of Anne Arundel County, MD, and Chief Mike Myers of Las Vegas, NV. The session was moderated by Chief Dennis Compton. Myers’ interview was published in the July issue. Some amazing things are going on with EMS treatment of patients, especially with the survival rate of heart attack victims in Las Vegas, which is many times above the national average.


Speaking of numbers, Insurance Services Office (ISO) statistics show a more than 20% increase since 2009 in fire department “retrogressions,” meaning lesser Public Protection Classifications. This is generally due to reductions in firefighting personnel available for responses, reductions in the number and type of apparatus responding and reduced or lack of training. These negative numbers can affect the fire insurance rates that owners of homes and commercial property pay.

These numbers are alarming, but are a factor of these uncertain economic times. With fire departments and particularly pensions of career members constantly under attack nationwide, one can only expect bad things to happen to civilians and firefighters alike. As I have said before, despite some departments adding personnel to make up for those who recently retired, much of what the fire service gained in the past few decades has been lost. These numbers don’t lie.

To deal with varied problems and keep up with today’s politicians, fire chiefs need to read our continuing Fire Service Leadership series on page 70 on “20 Tough Questions for the Fire Chief: Are You Prepared to Answer Them?” by Dr. Richard Gasaway and Richard C. Kline.


Recently, I traveled to the 111th annual Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association (CVVFA) convention, which was hosted this year by the Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Department in West Virginia. The meetings are attended by presidents, officers and members of state fire associations in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The speakers were informative and presented detailed reports, especially about how many of the state associations and their political committees succeeded in having items passed through their state legislatures for their firefighters’ needs.


The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has prepared a guide titled Fire Service Guide to Reducing Unwanted Fire Alarms. According to the report, in 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to 2.1 million false fire alarms, which included 979,500 responses due to unintentional activations and 698,000 due to system malfunctions. These alarms can lull first responders to a reduced state of readiness and adversely affect response times.

My department responded 15 times in one year to a certain address. When I responded one night as a new fire chief, I asked the homeowner where the smoke detector was located. “Upstairs,” was the response. When I asked what set it off, the homeowner replied, “There’s a fire upstairs.” When you are dispatched at dinner time, you may figure it’s going to be smoke from cooking. But you never know.


Call-for-papers applications for Firehouse Expo 2013 are now available. Click on and follow the directions. We are looking for new programs that never before have been presented in Baltimore. If you have any questions, please email me at