Carter: Taking Care of the Troops

Dr. Harry Carter highlights four means of resource conservation for fire departments.

My task with you today is work hard in order to make a fairly boring concept to life for you in such a manner that you will go running out the door of your office shouting at the top of your lungs "I have seen the future and it is great!"  That is how I would like to present resource conservation to you.  I see it as the key to fire department success as we wander through the 21st century.

When most people hear the term “resources conservation” they think of saving trees for future generation, providing clean drinking water and a host of similar natural resources conservation scenarios. In this article I am going to propose to you that the fire department of this century can only be successful if its members choose to carefully nurture the human resources which they have received from their citizenry.

Since change is inevitable, how well any fire department succeeds in future endeavors is based largely upon how well it prepares for them now.  That is why it is essential to plant the seeds of organizational change now, so that they will have time to germinate, grow and mature.

Four resource areas can be subjected to a conscious conservation effort.  They are:

  • Conservation of effort: How much of a fire department is really necessary?
  • Conservation of people:  Protecting the most valuable resource.
  • Conservation of dollars:  Using each one wisely.
  • Conservation of equipment:  Overcoming the curse of the low bid!

Conservation of Effort

There are fire departments which have far too much in the way of firefighting resources for the type and size of community to protect.  In its own way, this is as much a problem as those communities which habitually seem to be undermanned, underfunded and under equipped.  Neither provides its community a proper return on dollars for public fire protection.

It is our contention that community fire protection can be tailored to fit the town, in much the same way that an English gentleman would have a suit clothes tailored to his frame.  A fine thought, but how would it be done?   Through a community fire risk survey.  Great pains are taken to break a jurisdiction down into easily studied parts.  This is easier than attempting to swallow a whole community in one analytical bite. I will cover this in a future visit with you.

By targeting the most severe hazards in a community, a relative level of risk can be determined.  A study of fire suppression and protection resources allows for a level of community fire protection to be developed.  Once an administrator knows what exists in terms of risk and protective capability, a program can be developed to address the identified problems.  It is through this process that a level of community fire protection can be achieved which closely approximates the actual need which was identified.  It is this analytical mechanism which will be discussed in detail in future editions of this column.

Conservation of People

As the folks at the General Electric Co. were so fond of saying back in the 1950s, “People are our most important product.”  If you stop to think about it, this gem of wisdom can set the tone for your successful organizational trip through the world of the 21st Century.   

Let me suggest that the first step in any equation involving your people is to start by recruiting the best possible candidates for careers in the fire service.  If the need exists you may have to establish training programs to assist people in qualifying for a career in the fire service.  In the volunteer world this means that our recruiting efforts must target people who will fit into the puzzle that is our local fire department. 

Many fire agencies in the United States have developed a form of feeder mechanism by using local community college systems to train people for careers in the fire service.  Through the completion of a thorough curriculum in all areas necessary to meet the requirements of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1001, “Firefighter Professional Qualifications,” candidates receive the knowledge necessary to enter a fire department.  Their physical skills can then be polished to fit the individual needs of the departments that eventually employ them.  By setting high standards a better quality of recruit is brought into the system.

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