FDSOA Keynote: Fire Service Has Identity Crisis

ORLANDO, Fla. – The fire service has an identity crisis and it needs to figure out how to resolve the issue to ensure its future.

Those are the words Plano, Texas, Fire Chief Brian Crawford shared with the attendees of the 26th annual Fire Department Safety Officers Association’s Apparatus Specification & Safety Symposium that convened this morning in Orlando.

“The fire service has been changing over the years and everyone in the world recognized it except those in the fire service,” Crawford told the more than 400 fire service professionals who listened to the key note address.  The title of his presentation was “Identity Crisis – Fire Service Looking For Its Future.”

“The fire service has changed and for more than 200 years, we were able to disguise what we did with tradition,” Crawford said. “We were the guys that rode around in the 40,000 pound trucks putting out fires. But in the last 30 to 40 years, things have shifted and we’re doing more and more other calls every year.”

Crawford said for centuries, firefighters said they were not going to do medical calls, no wrecks, no hazardous material calls, none of that stuff.

“We fight fires, and we don’t do all that other crap,” Crawford said.

But that dynamic has changed over the years and a community expects more from their fire department today than ever.

“We are now all hazard,” Crawford said. “We take care of anything that doesn’t have anything to do with a gun. …When the community says, ‘we have an issue’, we raise our hands and say we’ll do it. We always have.”

So, the fire service went to apparatus manufacturers looking for rigs to take care of all the items that the fire service needed to take care of everything, Crawford said.

 And they did just that making very large rigs that held everything from extrication tools and absorbent materials to fire suppression mission equipment and components.

That worked well for many years until the fire service realized it didn’t have the financial resources to do everything for everybody without more funding.

“So, what happened?” Crawford asked. “We asked for more money and we were told there wasn’t any and that’s why they went to the fire department in in the first place.”

As communities become savvier and community leaders more carefully examined fire department budgets, departments are required to prove their needs as never before, Crawford said.

“My city councilors and mayor know more about my department than I do,” Crawford said, noting that he has to justify every penny in his budget.

That’s why it’s becoming more difficult to justify the purchase of big apparatus that respond for fire suppression and all-hazard mitigation.