How Much FD Do We Need and Why?

Oct. 6, 2003
Over the past several years, I have seen a drop in the level of fire protection that exists in many places.
Over the past several years, I have seen a drop in the level of fire protection that exists in many places. I have seen these sad phenomena in communities of every size. I have seen this in career, and combination, as well as volunteer departments. Far too many departments appear to be taking a hit from their political and administrative leaders.

As an observer of the fire service scene, I have chosen to take a close look at the reasons why fire departments appear to take a disproportionate hit at budget time. We must all recognize a number of things:

  • Crime pays (at least for police budgets)
  • Fire departments are unaware of how big they should be, how many people they should utilize, or how much equipment they need
  • The average fire person does not seem to care about the larger picture of protection within their community
  • There are those who fail to see the fire service as a multi-service discipline (This amplifies the above statement)

One can only marvel at the amount of money which is available for police departments, and that seems to flow in an endless stream from sources that seem almost mythical to a poor old fire service slug like myself. It is tough to find a culprit to pin this one on.

I guess each of us must share a bit of the blame, because we have not fought to establish grants programs with the same intensity as our colleagues in the police world. We are working to address that problem in Congress, but there are a host of other places, both public and private, that we need to cultivate.

Hell, why not say what every one is thinking. The federal government is taking our FIRE Act money and siphoning it into that vast reservoir of terrorism money. Terrorism my aunt Hanna! I am sick of hearing about terrorism. Most people I know are responding to car wrecks, heart attacks, and house fires. However, I suggest that rather than crying foul, we need to refocus how we do business.

What we need to do is show the world that we know what we are doing when it comes to strategic planning, budgeting, and administration. Enough crying over past tanker loads of spilled milk. Enough of this name-calling and whining. We have been lied to, so what. This is nothing new for any of us.

If we are to take our true place in the world of government affairs, we must begin to operate in a far more organized fashion. Here is where we need to demonstrate that we can operate like a business. If we are all to be in a position that allows us to develop fire departments truly representative of the communities they protect, then we must become intimately familiar with risk analysis and community defense fire plan development.

We must adopt a system that allows us to assess the need for fire departments, in terms that are readily understandable not only to the politicians, but the general public as well. We must discover just how many people, pieces of fire apparatus, stations, and the like, are right for our community. We must plan for the future based upon what we know and what we envision.

A fire risk assessment of the hazards within any community must be performed. This requires that a determination be made regarding those events that might occur in that community. If a department fails to give potential emergencies due consideration, their ability to respond to them, should they occur, will be limited. It may also reduce the effectiveness of their overall level of municipal fire protection.

Every fire department should consider adopting a pro-active approach to planning for those potential incidents that may happen in the future. You cannot expect that the future will always be kind to you. You must envision the bad things that could happen and prepare for them.

A great deal of what exists in each community is there as a result of past practices. More time needs to be spent in planning for future operations. A number of variables exist that can serve as the basis for various potential emergency scenarios and each must be consciously considered as a part of the planning process.

They are as follows:

  1. Population
  2. Geography and topography
  3. Demographics
  4. Transportation mediums
  5. Level of industrial development
  6. Level of residential development
  7. Level of commercial development
  8. Predominant construction types
  9. Available water supply

These are the factors that affect how much fire protection will be needed in your community. Let me assure you that there is a direct relationship between an increase in the number of people who live in your community, and the number of emergency service responses that will occur in your area. I have seen this time and again as new housing developments have opened here in my fire district.

My area here in Adelphia is no different than any other place in the world. If there are more houses, there exists a greater potential for problems. Even if the percentage of chance in any single home remains the same, there are a lot more places for that chance to occur. It is better to prepare for what may occur than to be caught short.

In line with this, a solid plan for the future will allow you to budget for growth over time. It is better to increase your requests a little bit each year than to be faced with a sudden jump of major proportions.

Let us look at how each of these might be addressed in a target community.

  1. You should review as to whether the population is static, or it has grown.
  2. You should assess the level of residential development in your community.
  3. If the potential for growth exists, there is the potential for an in crease in the demand for service.
  4. Demographic changes in your community may have a negative impact upon your ability to recruit new members for the fire department.
  5. Check to see if commercial development is increasing.
  6. Review your road network. Older roads do not allow for ease of apparatus movement throughout the entire community.

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