20 Tough Questions For the Fire Chief: Are You Prepared To Answer Them? Question 12

As budgets have become tighter, many fire departments have been forced to find ways to reduce operating costs. Many of the “20 Tough Questions” are focused on the benefits and consequences that result from creative problem solving. Question 12 deals...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

• Baseball fields – The baseball fields in city parks are going to be browned out, meaning the fields will be closed on Mondays. If it’s a rolling brownout, the fields will be closed on Monday one week, Tuesday the next, etc., just as in the example of the accessible ramps above. If teams show up to play a game and don’t know the fields are closed, they are going to be angry – and rightfully so. The teams had a reasonable expectation that if their game was scheduled on a given day at a given time, the field should be open.

Risk management

A fire department that considers brown-outs as an option to reduce operating costs can benefit from looking at the decision from a perspective of risk management. Managing risk is all about probabilities, not possibilities. In fact, anything is possible and it is not realistic for a fire department to be equipped, staffed, trained and prepared to handle anything. What’s more realistic is for the fire department to be equipped, staffed, trained and prepared to handled the emergencies it is most likely to experience (i.e., high-probability events) and to have a plan for how to manage emergencies that will only rarely happen – if they happen at all (i.e., low-probability events).

The decision to brown out a fire company or station should be rooted in risk management. This is where data can aid in the decision-making process. Demand for services ebbs and flows based on time of day and day of week. Logic would say staff when and where the probability of an emergency is greatest. For example, a company or station may be very busy during the weekday and the number of critical calls declines at night (e.g., the company or station is in an area that is predominantly retail and calls for service decline sharply when the stores are closed), so it may make sense to brown out a company or a station in that area at night. It may be risky to brown out companies or stations randomly without consideration for probabilities of critical calls. For example, browning out a company or station when the station is known to be busy increases risk.

 

Reality check

The reality is, companies are browned out all the time. Every time a company responds to a call (i.e., “red out”), it is out of service – closed. While a company is out of service handling one emergency call, it is essentially “browned out” for responding to another emergency call and this is going to cause a delay in service as the replacement company comes from another station. Depending on how busy a station is, the occurrence of simultaneous calls can range from infrequent to common.

Browning out a company, when done with deference to risk management, can be an effective way to reduce operating costs while reducing the impact of putting a company or station out of service. Browning out a company or station can reduce overtime costs. This can, in turn, prevent the permanent closure of a company or fire station and may also prevent a reduction in staff.

Summary

Browning out a fire company or a fire station, while an option to balance a budget, does impact service levels and increases response times.

However, when all other possible cost-reduction measures have been taken, brown-outs are an option that may reduce operating costs, avoid station closings and prevent layoffs. n