“The DNA of fire departments is to respond to EVERYTHING and help EVERY TIME.”
That statement from the recently released white paper by ICMA and CPSE, 21st Century Fire & Emergency Services, aptly sums up not only the DNA of departments, but the deep-seated DNA of fire and emergency services professionals everywhere. We’re “can do” problem solvers of the highest order. That’s why I’m optimistic about our ability to meet the challenges facing our agencies and each of us as individually, today and into the future. A good first step is to take time to read and digest this important document. It’s well worth your time to download, study and share with your peers. This document is an insightful look into the future. It highlights issues our organizations and personnel will be dealing with now and in the years ahead.
We’re All Professionals
When I mention “professionals” I’m including all emergency services providers, career and volunteer. The service we provide is very much professional in nature, regardless of who’s delivering it. The white paper examines eight critical issues facing all of us regardless of our organization type:
All eight are important and, based on my current role at ER, I am tempted to tackle “Technology” and “Robust Use of Data”. However, let’s focus on two others: “Re-identification” and “Culture”.
“200 Years of Tradition Unimpeded by Progress” is a Fallacy
“Re-identification” pertains to how we are defined. Many of us derive a good portion (maybe too much) of our identity from being a firefighter. That title tells just a small part of the story of what we really do. You’ve probably heard the saying that our industry is “200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress”. Well, that’s a cliché and, if you really think about it, blatantly untrue. We’ve evolved from putting out fires to delivering EMS, responding to hazmat incidents, community paramedicine, community risk reduction activity and even picking up snakes and performing graffiti abatement in some communities. And consider the technology advancements over the past ten years: AVL-enabled vehicles, computer aided dispatching, advances in PPE, the proliferation of mobile devices, thermal imagers and digital records management systems to name a few.
The “Re-identification” part of the white paper wants us to consider that we should embrace where we’ve come from – “celebrate the heritage” – but we must prepare ourselves for what lies ahead in the next thirty years. There’s a reason Mesa (AZ) Fire & Medical Department and Rio Rico (AZ) Medical & Fire District added “medical” to their official titles. It better reflects the overall mission.
Re-identification is more than just changing our name, it’s about recognizing fire and medical departments are in an ideal position to deliver services outside the traditional emergency response. Re-identification goes deeper into the organization. It places heavy emphasis on customer service, community risk reduction, mobile integrated healthcare, and helps position departments to be indispensable to their communities. This is critical if departments hope to sustain themselves into the future.
Everyone Loves A Firefighter
Ah, fire service culture. Nothing beats it. During my 22 years on the job, I loved the culture of camaraderie, sense of purpose and being part of something noble and greater than myself. During my travels to departments around the world teaching Emergency Reporting, I encountered very few that had what you would call a “toxic” culture. If your culture is highly resistant to change, it doesn’t necessarily mean your culture is toxic, but it’s going to be a problem if you want to thrive in the 21st century. W. Edwards Deming once stated, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” Change requires an enhanced alignment among stakeholders: the community, labor/volunteer representatives, elected officials and of course, the overall workforce. It also requires developing an organizational culture that is adaptive, not resistant to change, can embrace technology and data utilization, and is an inclusive workforce. It means being able and willing to set education, training and credentialing expectations higher for everyone in your organization.
There are many reasons “everyone loves a firefighter”. If we prepare well for what is coming in the next thirty years, there will be even more reasons for our communities to enthusiastically support the fire and emergency services.
Business Development Analyst | Emergency Reporting
About the Author:
Tom Louis currently serves as a Business Development Analyst, Subject Matter Expert, and Key Account Manager for Emergency Reporting. He retired as a battalion chief from the Green Valley Fire District in Arizona in 2013 after serving for 22 years. He has used Emergency Reporting since 2004 and has been part of the Emergency Reporting family since 2011, working with customers throughout the United States and in Canada, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, and Kuwait. He holds two associate degrees and graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a bachelor of applied science degree in Fire Service Management. He believes that in order to tell a fire department’s story, high quality, actionable data in an easily understandable manner is essential for our communities and decision-makers. He is an avid reader of both non-fiction books and technothriller novels, loves classic and modern Mopar muscle cars, and has a soft spot for retired racing greyhounds.