For a profession that prides its self on such catchphrases as "100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress," the fire service has proven itself to be very resilient and adaptable to change. From buckets and horses to pumpers and motor-driven apparatus, we’re not as resistant to change as we often portray ourselves.
Take EMS, for example. What wasn’t even on the radar 40 years ago has transitioned into the most significant component of services provided.
In fact, Phil Keisling goes so far as to suggest taking the fire out of fire department (Governing Magazine, 2015). I’m not entirely ready to take that leap, but we must admit our service-delivery model has changed over the last few decades. EMS and public service have come to dominate our response profile—so much so, in fact, that the fire service is in another significant period of evolution.
The first evolution of the fire service occurred when visionaries such as Ben Franklin organized disparate factions and coalesced those elements into a single, purpose-driven organization. Thus, the creation of the modern fire service was born.
Another evolutionary step was the adoption of EMS by the fire service. As fires waned and the fire code introduced proactive protection systems, the fire service grew into an all-hazard profession and broadened the service-delivery model. Moreover, today we’re on the cusp of another evolution.
Private industry, statisticians, governing bodies and even thinktanks believe they can apply complicated statistical models and reduce the cost of service delivery because the occurrence of fires has decreased in recent history. While the logic of that may be flawed (see Fire Departments are not businesses, they are critical infrastructure), it does pose a relevant question. How does the fire service apply perceived loss of concentration into beneficial activity?
The profession has started to dive deeper into the EMS field by including community paramedicine, private-public partnerships and a few other innovative, forward-thinking strategies. However, there’s one Achilles heel in many of these plans: the ability to accurately capture services that are being delivered.
The reason these groups, and for that matter Mr. Keisling, even have a platform to speak from is the limited information from which many agencies can tell their stories.
Fortunately, some forward-thinking individuals and organizations, such as the IAFC and CPSE, saw the writing on the wall and developed standards in which to normalize fire-department activities, but this only works if we accurately account for our actions.
This is where you, the company and chief officers, come into play. You’re the drivers of the next evolution of the fire service. Your accurate documentation is the foundation of evolving the fire service for the next 40 years. What that looks like—I'm confident all of you have an idea, but let's make sure that it’s supported and justifiable.