Economic conditions have forced many fire departments to find innovative methods to do more with less. Most departments have faced drastic budget cuts and are required to adapt accordingly. Many departments' budget reductions now also impact personnel, not just the more common operating and capital line items.
In many departments, fire prevention and operations divisions have had to reduce personnel to meet new budget constraints. With a reduction or elimination of fire-prevention staff, fire departments may now look to the operations staff to take a more active role in fire-prevention activities.
This may be a new adventure in many departments, while in some, the operations division was always integrated into fire prevention. The conditions now exist where we have to consider how our operations staff might help with some traditionally bureau of fire prevention-related initiatives.
An effective, comprehensive fire-prevention program enhances the safety of our community members and the economic stability of our business communities and provides for the safety of fire-suppression personnel. Simply stated, fire-prevention and hazard-mitigation initiatives equate to firefighter safety.
Dynamic fire-prevention efforts positively impact our fire departments' emergency operations in the following ways:
- Helps to ensure fire department access to buildings and provides preincident information
- Affords us the ability to become familiar with fire suppression, detection and other building systems such as smoke control and evacuation
- Identifies the storage practices and commodities present in our businesses
- Builds familiarity of large, unique and high-hazard occupancies
- Provides valuable technical information for incident commanders
Knowledge helps to ensure safety. Information and knowledge relative to inherent hazards in our communities is paramount to our own risk-reduction efforts. Additionally, knowledge aids efficiency. For example when we're more readily able to locate alarm panels and other systems and address issues in a building, we can be back in service faster.
Our community fire-prevention efforts are a means of shaping our battlefield. The actions we take before an incident not only affect the outcome to occupants of a structure, but also affect the ability or inability of emergency responders to function at their best. Good fire prevention equals great fire-department operations.
Good Fire Prevention: How Do We Get There?
Three ingredients are required to ensure that operations are integrated into fire prevention. These three Ms include a mandate, a means and a mechanism.
First, a mandate from the top down that fire prevention is embraced as a significant component of a community risk-reduction plan and a part of our fire department culture is required. We're now working in an economic climate that's changing how we do business. A positive impact can be the creation of a generation of fire service personnel who embrace fire prevention as everyone's job!
Second, the means or resources, in the form of staff hours and related technology tools, need to be dedicated to this effort.
Last, a mechanism or program needs to be put in place that's effective and efficient and produces measurable results. Measurements can evaluate a variety of outcomes, such as the number of inspections or preplans conducted annually, the number of volunteer compliance inspections provided by business owners or simply the number of contact hours with the business community. Community values and funds for these initiatives vary, so prioritization of high-hazard occupancies must be considered.
A variety of staffing solutions are currently used to advance fire-prevention programs, all of which offer some distinct advantages and disadvantages. These may include the utilization of full-time, part-time, sworn and civilian personnel as well as any combination of the above. Outsourcing to private companies is also an option.
With any staffing formula, a strong argument for the continuity of information-sharing between operations and prevention can be made in favor of fire-suppression personnel being directly involved in day-to-day fire-prevention activities.
However these staffing scenarios are accomplished, there must be a method to ensure a two-way information exchange between suppression operations and fire-prevention personnel if they're not the same people. Information such as preincident plans distributed department-wide, using a variety of web-based programs, is valuable to all firefighters, apparatus engineers and command staff alike.