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Defining Relevance for the Fire and Emergency Service in 2013

Return to the December 15, 2012 issue of On Scene

As relevance is often in the eye of the beholder, On Scene asked the IAFC board of directors to reflect on their personal perceptions of what fire and emergency relevance will look like in 2013 from the 30,000-foot level. Whether your perception is the same or different, we know the answers will get you thinking!

A special thanks to Chief Ken Silva, Western Division director and fire chief of Honolulu Fire Department, for contributing an opening summary.

After more than 30 years in the fire service, one of the most common clichés I hear is, "It isn't like it used to be!" Brothers and sisters, isn't that the truth?

The fire service continues to be a dynamic, evolving, essential resource for our communities. The old paradigm of saving lives and protecting property is but a fraction of the responsibilities required of the modern fire service.

Our customers—the citizens of our communities—have greater expectations of us and demand accountability for the funding they provide to us. They expect efficiency and effectiveness in the programs and services we provide. As professionals in our chosen field, we must bring excellence to the workplace every day.

We don't have the luxury of having a bad day; we must bring our A game every day. I like to use a baseball analogy: In baseball, if you go to the plate and get a hit three out of ten times you're at bat, you're batting average is .300 and you make millions of dollars.

Can you imagine if we in the fire service got it right just three out of ten times? We arrive at the correct address or provided the right medical intervention just three out of ten times? We go to a hazmat incident or technical rescue and followed SOPs just three out of ten times?

That would be unacceptable in our field, and rightly so!

No, the fire service isn't like it used to be, and neither are our communities. For the most part, that's a good thing even though it's not an easy thing. Change brings tremendous opportunities, and it helps to make the fire service one of the most exciting, rewarding and satisfying careers available.

Characteristics that Will Define Relevancy in 2013

Agile – The biggest challenge facing the fire service in the year ahead is our ability to manage and thrive in a changing environment.

Analytical – We must be able to forecast service-demand needs before our customers even realize they need them.

Able to prioritize – The fire service can't thrive if it must be all things to all people at all times. The fire and emergency service must learn to prioritize issues and services to best and most safely deploy resources and services.

Collaborative – The fire and emergency service will experience an acceleration of the numerous challenges we've faced for the past five years at the same time that resources are declining. These challenges can be surmounted if we can identify common goals and pull in the same direction. This will require a high level of collaboration with all fire service members and organizations to find and implement solutions.

Community-oriented – At both the local and national/international level, a relevant organization will be in tune with the community and remain engaged through education, engagement with stakeholders and as a community advocate. It's through community involvement that the fire and emergency service will be able to best determine and address priorities.

EMS-focused – Population, economic and healthcare changes will demand that the fire and emergency service of the future adopt EMS as a primary mission.

Innovative – Innovation in the fire service is essential to meet the increased demand for service as well as the expectations of the public for additional services in the future. Continued budget shortfalls, an aging population and political pressure to reduce staffing are among the challenges that will require our best work and our most creative solutions in 2013. Innovation is crucial in the evolution of an all-hazards response capability to better serve our communities.

Tech savvy – Technology is a critical tool in supporting new ideas and solutions. Technology has immediate applications for data collection, analysis and knowledge management and, with the right application, can play a critical role in maintaining service levels while not compromising firefighter safety. We must be savvy enough to leverage technology as a tool, avoiding the temptation of technology for technology's sake and understanding and avoiding potential pitfalls.

Compiled by Ann Davison, CAE, the IAFC's strategic information manager, based on personal viewpoints from individual members. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of the IAFC.

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