20 Tough Questions For the Fire Chief: Are You Prepared To Answer Them? - Question 13

There are two components to this question. First, should the fire department be providing first-responder medical services? Second, should the fire department be providing transport medical services? The heart of the policy issue for fire-based...


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• Exit strategy. The determination to outsource or privatize a function that historically the fire service has provided is an extremely difficult and often emotional decision. Often, the decision to eliminate a service is predicated on sound and rational findings, the efficiency and effectiveness study discussed earlier. Right-sizing and restructuring of fire department resources has become the norm. Fire departments are sometimes forced to decide what services they can adequately provide. This may result in discontinuing a prized service.

• Opportunity cost or opportunities lost. While it was mentioned briefly earlier, the opportunity for responders to be doing something else in lieu of responding to medical calls warrants additional discussion.

 

Further the mission

Notwithstanding the previously noted system abuse issues, if responders were to benefit from fewer calls for EMS, what else could they be doing? This is a question fire department administrators should be prepared to answer. Perhaps stated another way, what could the fire department do more of, or start doing that it does not currently do, that would advance the core mission of saving lives and property from the ravages of fire? What other proactive prevention-oriented activities could the fire department be involved in to help reduce calls for service or enhance the quality of life for citizens. A few examples come to mind:

  • Home fire-safety inspections
  • Safe-cooking awareness classes for senior citizens
  • Assisting in child-proofing homes to prevent injuries and poisonings
  • Swimming pool safety classes
  • Child-restraint seat installations
  • Slip-and-fall prevention programs
  • Teaching non-English-speaking populations about fire safety and the EMS system
  • Rental-housing inspection

The list for each community would be customized based on local need. However, there are likely a list of prevention-oriented activities that could fill the void and serve a valuable purpose.

The initial question was whether the fire department should provide medical services and, if so, at the first-responder or transport level. The answer lies in having a meaningful discussion with elected and appointed officials about control, finances, competition, quality of services, EMS system abuse, response times, system demand, opportunity costs and opportunities lost. n

 

Richard Gasaway presents “Fireground Command Decision Making and Situational Awareness” at Firehouse Expo 2013, July 23-27 in Baltimore, MD.

 

RICHARD B. GASAWAY, Ph.D., has served for more than 30 years in public safety, including 22 years as a chief fire officer. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctor of philosophy degrees in finance, economics, business administration and leadership. Dr. Gasaway operates the Situational Awareness Matters! website (www.SAMatters.com). He provides programs on firefighter safety and leadership to departments throughout the United States and Canada. Dr. Gasaway also hosts the Leader’s Toolbox podcast radio show on Firehouse.com. RICHARD C. KLINE has been the fire chief for the City of Plymouth, MN, since 1992 and is a senior associate at the Gasaway Consulting Group. He holds a master’s degree in public safety and is a credentialed chief fire officer through the Commission on Public Safety Excellence. Kline is the chairman of the Minnesota State Fire Chief Association’s Safety and Health Committee. The authors can be reached at: Support@RichGasaway.com or 612-548-4424.