My concern is this: Firefighters are sworn protectors of humankind. Firefighters are wired for action. And unlike some elected and appointed leaders, firefighters will not play politics with the lives of residents. All of this spells the potential for the crisis previously mentioned to involve the lives of firefighters.
So what can you do? What should you do? First, continue to educate. If the elected and appointed politicos won’t listen, then continue to educate the public. Continue to carry the message of fire prevention, the importance of smoke and CO detectors and home fire safety. Explain what happens when staffing and budgets are cut. One way to do this that may avoid the perception of proffering threats is to use the example of major league sports.
For the most part, the general public does not understand the consequences of a residential structure fire being battled with a crew of ten versus a crew of 15. After all, ten may seem like a lot of people. If you were to explain the impact of reduced staffing in terms of a baseball game for example, where one team has a full complement of nine players while the opposing team only gets to play with six players, the impact of reduced staffing starts to take on a common understanding. Explaining that the deprived team may have to play the game without a first baseman or a catcher may help your citizens understand the impact.
The one thing I know for sure is that visionary fire departments should see the current and future economic environment and its consequences as more permanent than temporary. This means we should stop wallowing in our misery and denial and start to “reinvent” ourselves. What does it mean to “reinvent?” It’s a buzz word being used a lot these days. Reinvention begins with realizing forces have been invoked, bringing about permanent change how things will be done in the future.
The fire department of the future… the services provided… the quality of services… the quantity of services… will be different. Such a statement cuts to the core of the emotions of dedicated firefighters, especially when these changes mean doing less when resources are cut.
I am hopeful that firefighters and their command officers are having meaningful discussions about what “reinventing” means, especially as it relates to how strategies and tactics should be adjusted based on cuts in staffing. I fear that firefighters will continue to fight fires the same way they always have and that may prove to be a recipe for disaster.
To all my brothers and sisters I ask you take a hard look at the new economy and the need to “reinvent” the way you provide your services. If your line staffing has been reduced, discuss among your colleagues ways to work smarter and how to adjust your standard operating procedures accordingly. Remember that you mean the world to someone… act accordingly and take steps to ensure you safety.
Fire Chief (ret.) Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO, MICP