Every trade magazine I pick up these days addresses the economy’s negative effect on local government, small or large, and area fire departments. It doesn’t matter where you are or what discipline you work in—everyone’s talking about it.
Funding is in short supply, and we’re seeing nontraditional effects. For example, over the past year, cities in and around Atlanta have decided to close stations permanently, brown out stations, close stations temporarily depending on that day’s resources, lay off firefighters (regardless of rank) and/or enact hiring freezes.
As public safety officials, we should ask ourselves, “What can we do to slow this downward spiral and turn things around in our favor? Where can we start?”
First and foremost: Think outside the box! Innovative thinking is needed more than ever before, and it’s something I’ve always tried to bring to the table. Fortunately for my department, this out-of-the-box approach has already generated income in these challenging times. For example, we started a non-emergency transport business that picks up patients from their residence or nursing home and transports them to a dialysis center and then returns them back to the original location. All this is being done separate from the on-duty emergency personnel.
Nevertheless, it shouldn’t take a challenging economy to inspire innovative thinking for creating revenue; these tactics should be utilized in all economic environments. Doing so allows public safety and public service in general to maximize services while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Down to Business
We must think of our department as a business—not just a place of public service. When we approach planning and budgeting in this matter, we can better understand and analyze our business and how to run it effectively and efficiently. First, we must look at how we operate our business. Are we doing everything we need to be doing, and are we doing it as efficiently as possible? Are we operating in a way that requires revenue and, if so, how can we generate revenue to create balance?
Many of our duties and services that are designed to keep our communities safe have the additional benefit of generating revenue. For example, we all know that fire lanes are supposed to be kept clear at all times. Taking the time to enforce this will cut down on these safety violations and generate revenue. If your community has been lax about enforcing these regulations, writing even a few more citations can potentially add thousands to the general fund.
Other examples of generating revenue may include false alarm fees, fire safety inspection fees and response fees. My department charges for our services and we did so long before the economic downturn. We also run ALS ambulances, and last year that alone contributed more than $330,000 in net returns to the general fund.
I know what some of you are thinking: Once it goes into the general fund, we’ll never see it again. Let me tell you a simple fact about our department: We haven’t had to lay off a single employee. In fact, the average wage increase was 3 ½ percent last year, and we’re expected to give the employees an increase this year once again. I receive about five applications per week from firefighters around the state and out of state. I’m fortunate to have the support of our elected officials who encourage all city departments to think of non-traditional revenue-generating or cost-cutting strategies.
The bottom line: You cannot afford to not make time to contribute to the financial health of your department. For more income-generating ideas, consider attending my presentation, “Creating Revenue in a Tough Economy”
at Fire-Rescue International
in Dallas. This will be a hot topic, and I’m excited to present it to those of you who are serious about turning things around.
Chief Mark W. Herendeen, CFO, has been in the fire service for 31 years, currently serving as the fire chief for the City of Morrow in the Atlanta metro area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration from Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, and is currently working on a master’s of business administration from Shorter College in Rome, Ga.