We all get bogged down in the day-to-day details of our lives. But it’s important to take a step back sometimes and look at the forest, not the trees. As the immediate Past President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the current President of the Metropolitan “Metro” Fire Chiefs’ Association, I’ve had a lot of opportunities recently to look at the big picture of the fire service, what’s changed, and what challenges lie ahead of us. Regardless of whether you are a member of a large metropolitan department, a small rural volunteer department, or somewhere in between, I believe you can find something in the points below to better serve your community and its citizens.
I like to put those changes and challenges into three broad categories: Building upon the Past, Responding to the Present, and Preparing for the Future.
BUILDING upon the Past
To quote Sir Winston Churchill, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I believe we can continue to learn those important lessons from the past by:
Reducing Firefighter Deaths
The fire service is continuing to improve in this area, but there is still work that can be done. We need to continuing to work on reducing firefighter deaths, including Line of Duty Deaths and preventable medical conditions. This includes making sure our people get regular physicals and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Firefighter Safety and Well Being
As improved safety measures and lessons learned are implemented in our industry, we need to continue to embrace positive change such as developments in technology that can help our firefighters.
RESPONDING to the Present
More than at any other time in our history as an industry and organization, the fire service has made great strides in adopting successful business practices. As we operate in our day-to-day world, there are three areas we need to remain steadfast in:
Since our industry is constantly changing, we need to find ways to remain sustainable in the areas of finance, training, and the environment. Although economies continue to present challenges, we must seek out innovative strategies that leverage existing resources for maximum gain, while not sacrificing the progress we have made in firefighter and community safety.
Building Relationships in the Community
This means everyone must “Do Their Part” to ensure a positive outcome. Citizens are included, of course, but there are also such targeted groups as labor, other emergency services organizations, all levels of government, corporate partners, and yes, even media!
Exploring and addressing The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s impact to service delivery is paramount in capitalizing on the opportunities it presents. Enhancing our medical mission while continuing to provide the best service possible will require balance and forethought.
PREPARING for the Future
President John F. Kennedy said, “We can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been.” As we prepare for the future, what are the areas of focus where we can get the most bang for our buck? I believe these include:
Embracing technology and all it can offer is an opportunity we cannot afford to let pass by. The D-block radio spectrum is a prime example of this.
Reducing the Impact of Fire
This is not only the obvious (dollar and life loss) but also the proactive steps we can take—smoke alarm installations in at-risk neighborhoods, residential sprinklers, for example—to lead the way in enhancing firefighter and citizen safety.
As we continue moving forward as an industry, I hope each of you will take the opportunities that you have to see the forest. Only then will we be able, as a whole, to figure out how to best support the trees.
We'd like to hear from you! In a post-9/11 world. what are the most pressing issues and challenges facing today's first responders?