The fire service in the United States may be facing its most challenging time in decades and some say in its history.
That's why it's important fire departments share information and best practices to get the most from limited resources.
Mark Nugent, a battalion chief from the Chesterfield (Va.) Department of Fire and EMS and Edward "Loy" Senter Jr., chief of the same department led the "Best Practices Forum" at Firehouse Expo. The course was designed to not only introduce a new column and blog in Firehouse, both in print and online, but as a venue for participants to learn from each other and from Nugent and Senter.
"These are the most challenging times in the fire service for at least the past 20 years, maybe ever," Senter said. "Nevertheless, you have to provide services. That's the bottom line and you have to do it 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Nugent said sharing ideas is one way of making the most for resources and those ideas don't have to come from chief officers.
"Some of the best ideas come from the guys riding backwards in the engine," Nugent said. "It doesn't have to be a chief or an officer."
Implementation of ideas should follow the schedule of planning, doing, study and then acting, Nugent said, adding that failure should not be a deterrent to trying new things.
"Don't be afraid to declare a do over," Nugent said. "There's nothing wrong with stopping and trying a do over."
Part of that process means that departments shouldn't accept their policies are the best they ever can be, Nugent said. "You should continually look for way to improve ideas from the field."
Nugent cautioned, however, there are times and places to try new things.
"If you try something new for the first time at a scene, it will be spectacular," Nugent said. "And that can be good or it can be bad, but you can be sure it will be spectacular."
It's easy for departments to fall into a trap of contentment, he said, cautioning department to not fall prey to those who say we've done that before and it won't work .
"So what," Nugent said. "Try it again."
Part of learning best practices is continual assessment and above all else firefighter safety, said Senter.
Too many fire departments are not requiring annual physicals for firefighters and too many more are not requiring safety belts when riding in apparatus.
"It boils down to leadership, leadership, leadership," Senter said.
A best practice for his department in Chesterfield is to have an on-going discussion about safety including newsletter items from the chief, discussions of local close calls and sharing of lessons learned.
Senter said he recalls a time decades ago when he himself was a rookie firefighter hell bent on aggressive interior attacks thinking he was "bulletproof." He'd charge into vacant burning buildings, using up two or three SCBA bottles, not thinking about personal safety or his family. And, at the end of the day, a bulldozer would come in and flatten the remaining structure, essentially undoing anything he thought he may have saved.
"I was having a blast, not thinking anything about my family, or anything else for that matter," Senter said. "Now, I look at things much differently.
Practicing with other departments with a response district is always a good idea, Nugent said, noting that having everyone using the same terms and understanding operations and procedures.
Through a blog on Firehouse.com and through columns in Firehouse magazine, Nugent is hoping to create an essentially interactive forum in which departments, firefighters and officers will submit their ideas and best practices for Nugent and his peers to review and then share with other Firehouse readers on a regular bases.
Nugent said ideas submitted to Firehouse.com will go to his email as well and he will take the best and pass them along.
If all goes as plan, Nugent and Senter will be back at Firehouse Expo in 2013 to share best practices in 12 areas including: firefighter safety, firefighter health and wellness, fireground operations, EMS, training and education, administrative support, fiscal management, recruitment and retention, fire prevention, maintenance and logistics, fire and life-safety public education and customer service initiatives.
"We think we've got all the topics covered, but if someone has number 13, let us know and we'll include that as well," Nugent said. "... We really just want to be able to share best practices and hopefully this will take off after a slow burn."
For information about the blog and column and to learn how to submit best practices, click here.