What We Are Learning
It is time. It is time for the American fire service to begin shifting our efforts to a broader business portfolio. True or false, many of our constituents and political leaders see the fire service as a profession that waits for something bad to happen (which rarely does), only to arrive too late to save the people they are sworn to serve. I am not sure I agree with that perception, but if the perception is there, then we need to do something about it. If there is any measure of truth to this perception then this is a red flag issue.
It is apparent to most informed fire service leaders in this country and internationally, that mechanical firefighting is not a growth industry. Simply, fires are down in number. They are down at the rate of about seven percent a year for the last five years. Since 1981, unwanted fires are down more than 53% in this country. The interesting fact is the severity of fires (especially structure fires) is on the increase. So we may be headed toward an environment of low frequency, high risk incidents. So what is the answer? One of the possible answers is for the fire service to consider diversifying their portfolios in an effort to increase their value and support from their community and community leaders.
What We Can Learn From the Scots
Our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic are experiencing remarkable success in reducing the impact of fire, while at the same time taking an all-hazards approach to risk faced by their citizens. In England, Norway, Scotland and Sweden the fire service has embraced pre-incident public assistance. These countries first identified the most at-risk populations by making use of a private for-profit marketing analysis corporation. They identified high at-risk populations by tracking the spending habits of the most at-risk populations, then using geographic mapping, illustrated the most at-risk census tracks.
Local fire service personnel are assigned to focus on these at-risk census tracks exclusively. By focusing efforts I mean relentless persistence and personal interaction. Firefighters work in concert with citizen groups and referrals from social services. Fire firefighters engage high at-risk citizens through scheduled home visits designed as a check up on them to ensure they are safe from fire. They also ensure the general welfare of the citizen is addressed by checking the home for general health and other risks, such trip hazards (a number one cause of injures to seniors). They make sure the resident is aware of other local, state and federal government services. An example of measured success occurred in Scotland where Scottish firefighters have produced a 41% drop in fire deaths since 1997.
There are several published reports that clearly describe the specifics of this program and the results of the good work being done in Great Britain, Norway and Sweden. Check them out.
Here is one of the URLs:
This approach may be just the approach we need to take when everybody else in government service is shrinking services using lack of money as an excuse. It may be something we may can learn from. It is just what I have been thinking.
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