It is perceived by fire service leaders that fire departments across the United States will see a paradigm shift from just emergency response services to a comprehensive community risk reduction and management focus. This statement is becoming more and more common as you sit and talk with fire service leaders across the nation. National fire Academy Executive Fire Officer (EFO) research documents are being developed and presented on this very topic. It was a discussion topic at the International Association of Fire Chief’s (IAFC) strategic planning meeting. So why do we need to change directions?
The fire service already responds and reactively handles the majority of emergencies and crisis within the community. We need to begin focusing on a proactive approach. With this being said, this would allow for not only a safer community but help focus on the quality of life of our citizens. If we are able to prevent most incidents from occurring the costs of those incidents will be significantly reduced, the quality of life will be improved and the potential for economic sustainability is increased. As government budgets continue to shrink, the impact of budget cuts to departments continue. The impact of these cuts is witnessed almost daily in the fire service with browning out of stations, closing of companies, staff reduction through attrition and yes even critical staffing reductions by employees being laid off. The fire service has reached a new fold in its history. With this new fold occurring we must adapt our philosophies, strategies and even our beloved tactics. When corporations and builders engineer and construct disposable buildings then we need to tactically focus our efforts on engineering and code requirements of automatic fire suppression systems and early detection systems. When the owners and builders ignore this option and a fire catastrophe strikes, we need to utilize the new rules of tactical engagement.
Fire departments will need to shift from traditional emergency responses services and transition into a combination of emergency responses services with a primary focus on being a community reduction team focusing on public safety in a multidimensional approach of safe buildings through code enforcement, building requirements, environmental impact, community safety, responder safety, community health and wellness and community risk reduction through research and education. We will become the mother ship that guides critical thinking in all aspects of safety throughout our community.
The fire service will need to focus on assembling a set of best practices in risk reduction and work diligently to manage risk via educating our communities, proactive engineering practices and code enforcement. However, the fire service does not collect data well at all. We have to transition to being very analytical of collecting certain complete and accurate quantifiable data based upon a standard data model for comparative benchmarking studies.
The battle is won however on the proactive side through risk reduction and risk management. The long term impacts will benefit everyone. Our success will be determined by not solely the retrospective data but community and family buy in. This relates to the true potential risk that exists, verses how it has been reduced.