20 Tough Questions For the Fire Chief: Are You Prepared To Answer Them? Question 9

These questions get to the heart of the fire department’s efficiency. Set aside for a moment that it is extremely difficult to predict when an emergency will occur. On-duty staffing serves, in some respects, as an insurance policy for businesses...


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Our goal, as good stewards of public dollars, should be to ensure we have properly trained personnel on duty (or available for callback) at the right times, in the right quantity, to effectively mitigate emergencies. Further, when not responding to emergencies, personnel should be engaged in training and other activities that advance the department’s mission for a reasonable amount of their workday (with consideration for reasonable breaks and rest periods). Tracking, documenting and reporting these efficiencies in a proactive manner will serve to both educate the community and elected officials of the fire department’s efforts to fulfill its mission and it will help justify the on-duty staffing in a way that directly correlates to the mission.

Be proactive

Finally, consider proactively educating your elected officials and community about why it takes so many first responders to handle critical emergencies. Residents can be critical when they see five pieces of fire apparatus responding to a call for burnt food on a stove. However, what they may not know is the call was dispatched as “smoke in a building,” triggering a response in preparation for a potential structure fire.

Accurate documentation of your call patterns, call response and staffing trends, including outcomes are important to demonstrate your thoughtful approach when discussing fire department operations. Elected officials and city administrators rely on accurate, historically based data to support future decisions. Creating an understanding is vital.

Citizens and elected officials tend to be most critical of our operations when they lack understanding of what we do, how we do it and why we do it. Take all the mystery out of the fire department’s operations by educating them on the what, how and why. Take a hard look at the what, how and why of what you do.

While looking at the fire department through the lens of a citizen or an elected official, determine whether what you do makes sense. Is it defensible in a tight economy? Does it represent good stewardship of the tax dollars? If you cannot come up with good, defensible explanations for what, how and why, that may be a red flag that there is an opportunity to do it differently and more efficiently.