Where is the fire service heading? What is our mission? Who will lead the industry? These questions - and many more - are at the forefront of the fire service as we move forward. I can only guess what the future holds based on past trends, and the one thing that is truly certain is that there will be immense change in our profession. 9/11 changed the fire service. So has the rise of natural disasters, mass shootings, chemical weapons attacks, and other threats. But our mission as firefighters has not changed: we protect our communities; we answer the calls. Our scope of work, though, has evolved greatly.
While departments deal with fewer fires than they did in the past, there are significantly more special operations nowadays (dive, HAZMAT, technical rescue, wildfire, etc.). The EMS load has also increased. This expanded workload has stressed budgets and training requirements. Throw into the mix all the other things we’re responsible for (equipment checks, building inspections, pre-plans, public education, and station chores), and it can get overwhelming.
There are no easy answers to combat the issues facing fire departments, and it is my opinion that both the workload and the public’s expectations are unrealistic. If it continues like this, I fear that the bubble could burst and we’d be left with a dysfunctional system of over-stressed firefighters and officers. So how can we work to resolve these issues? Here are a few potential solutions:
Establish more mutual-aid, auto-aid, and intergovernmental agreements between agencies that can’t afford specialty teams on their own.
Consolidate fire districts, authorities, and municipal fire departments. Though this can be met with resistance as jurisdictional control is challenged, consolidation greatly improves response efficiency and reduces overhead and administrative costs.
Extend equipment life. The single biggest cost to fire agencies (aside from labor) is apparatus and equipment. Stretching the life of rigs, bunker gear, air-paks, thermal cameras, and all the other stuff we use can greatly reduce budgetary strain. Design or invest in a system to maximize the efficiency of your maintenance inspections - taking into account NFPA standards, manufacturer specs, and SOPs. (Full disclosure: I currently consult for PSTrax, a company that automates fire department apparatus and equipment checks).
Think of how much the fire service has changed in the last 20 years. Where do you think it’ll be in the next 20? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Operations Chief (Ret.), Boulder Fire Department
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