By: Robert Avsec
In my previous blog, What’s your department’s funding strategy?, I included the following model from the National Fire Academy’s class, Fire Services Financial Management. I took that class many years ago, and as I reviewed it for that last blog I found that it is not only relevant today, but has increased in its relevance. In the next couple of postings, I’ll share with you
why I think that.
Lets start today with a discussion about resources. This is the part of the financial management process, aka, budgeting process, where you and your department make the case to your stakeholders for the people, equipment, and facilities necessary to provide your services safely, effectively, and efficiently.
So far, so good, right? Not so fast! Are you still telling your stakeholders what YOU need or are you telling them what THEY need? In his best seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the late Stephen Covey calls this “seeing the issue from the other person’s frame of reference and crafting your message so that it comes back to them through their frame of reference.”
How many firefighters does it take to do the job? In today’s world you have to give people specifics, not generalities.
How many firefighters are required to safely, effectively, and efficiently suppress the typical house fire in your community? Do you know what the typical house fire “looks like” in your locality? If you don’t know the answers to these types of questions you and your department would be well served—and so would the people you serve—to learn the answers.
Do you have large businesses or industrial facilities in your locality? How many firefighters will it take to suppress a fire in those facilities? Many large companies have reduced or completely eliminated their in-house fire suppression force, e.g., fire brigade or emergency response team, as a cost reduction strategy. They’ve chosen to “bet” on the installed fire protection systems AND the local fire department to provide fire protection for their facility. Do YOU know that? Do your stakeholders know that? And if they do know, do they know that they’re paying for it? (Those same companies, and others who never had in-house fire protection resources, have also reduced the amount of resources that they commit to routine and preventative maintenance. This cost reduction strategy also leads to increased potential for fires to occur within machinery and process flow paths).
Discussions on Alternatives for Public Fire Protection
If we’re truly concerned about reducing the devastating impact of fires on lives and property in our communities we should also be engaging our stakeholders in discussions on how to get more “bang for their buck”. How about showing them the cost of manual fire suppression (people, equipment, and facilities) vs. automatic fire suppression systems (commercial and residential fire sprinklers) in all occupancies? Or showing them how new technologies, e.g., High-End, Heat-Limiting Technology, can eliminate the #1 cause of fires in the USA, cooking fires?
We’re Not Just About Fires
Don’t just focus on fire protection. For many organizations, fire suppression calls account for roughly 25 percent of their total calls; structure fires are typically only a small percentage of that 25 percent.
Tell your stakeholders what resources THEY need for you to provide services for those other 70 percent of calls you respond to each year. You know, the:
- EMS calls
- Hazmat calls
- Technical rescue calls
- Emergency Management calls for natural and man-made disaster calls, e.g., tornados, hurricanes, floods, train derailments, pipeline ruptures, etc.
Isn’t Emergency Management the label that best covers everything that we do in our communities? We’re the first-responders to every type of emergency in our communities except for law enforcement calls, and even on those we frequently respond to support our LE brothers and sisters.
Are we continuing to shortchange our departments by clinging to a name, fire department, which no longer accurately describes all that we do? I, for one, believe that we are.
In an age when the public’s perceptions and opinions are heavily influenced by marketing messages and imagery and social media, why do so many of our fire service leaders continue to present their departments as one-dimensional entities? That strategy may have worked well when the frequency and severity of fires in a community was higher than it is today, but from what I see it’s very outmoded.
Let’s “circle back” to the starting point for this piece, the budget process or financial management process in your community. I believe that successful fire departments in the future will be those who’ve embraced the thoughts and ideas presented above to create informed and educated stakeholders in their community. They’ll be successful because they approached the budgeting process and their marketing efforts as different sides of the same coin.