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Way back in 1993, one of our columns discussed financial resource management in the fire departments of America. At that time, we spoke of how it has classically been a hit or miss thing. Budgets were usually increased in an incremental way, with great leaps occurring after unfortunate tragedies or when it became politically expedient for local governing bodies to support fire department growth efforts.
Over the course of our last several columns, we have discussed the concept of resource conservation. We mentioned that your community would probably be best served through the use of a method by which you can tailor your fire department to the identified needs of your community. Over the next several columns, we will introduce you to the concept of "Fire Risk Analysis" and its corollary field, "Community Fire Defense" program development.
These are not new concepts. We first began teaching them well over a decade ago for the National Fire Academy. However, the folks in Emmitsburg have not seen fit to update these courses and send them out to you in the field. It is my contention that over a 10- to 12-year span, a new generation of fire service leaders has emerged.
Many of those people who were taught these risk-analysis techniques back in the mid-1980s have moved on or retired. During the intervening years, we have personally used these concepts in our consulting practice. We have studied scores of communities through the use of these formulas and practices.
Based upon my firm's experience in municipal fire risk, we have decided to revisit this critical area of fire service administration. We are doing this in the interest of creating another generation of knowledgeable and concerned fire service leaders, managers and visionaries.
Photo courtesy of the Florence Fire Department
Today's fire departments must be prepared to meet all types of incidents. Here, firefighters from Devil's Lake, Florence and Toledo, OR, learn to handle liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) emergencies through live fire training. The firefighters are using a wide fog pattern as they approach a burning propane tank, with the intention of turning off the gas.
In the past several years, we have taken the basic Emmitsburg programs and expanded them slightly, based on our years of municipal fire protection consulting. It is our hope that this column and those in the months to come will equip you with the fire risk analysis skills necessary to meet the coming new millennia.
It has long been our contention that the future will be unforgiving toward fire departments which conduct business as usual. You must be prepared to meet such challenges as EMS, hazardous materials and public education. The trend in municipal and public administration has been toward a more businesslike approach to financial management.
Now more than ever before, fire departments are being placed under a fiscal microscope. Citizens, burdened by ever-growing taxes, are urging government to make cuts wherever possible. We must remember that the fire department is always an ever-present target. Fire departments must be on guard against careless budgeting and financial practices, as well as unnecessary expenditures.
The tradition of accepting level funding or budget cuts without a fight must be changed. In order to overcome this negative bias, the fire department of the future will have to be tailored to fit the fire protection needs of its community, much like a good set of clothes is sculpted to fit the actual physiological demands of its wearer. You must first develop an understanding of your community's fire risk "physique" before you move to design a fire protection garment for it.
Fire departments must become high profile. They must work to show the community that they exist and that their non-emergency activities are important. They must identify their customers and work to meet their actual needs in a cost-effective manner.