America has just completed an intense presidential election cycle, and every night we watched the news to see who was forecasting which results. Then came election night and throughout the evening there were many polls forecasting which candidate would win which state and by how much.
Most of this was being done using different forecasting tools available that can, to some degree of accuracy, predict the outcome.
So, can anyone, with certainty, forecast the future?
I say it isn’t likely, but with some research and knowledge, you can predict what trends are taking place that may change what we see and how we act 5 to 10 years out.
How does the fire service fit in?
This brings me to the fire service. I have seen many changes in my 42 years in the fire service; I couldn’t have envisioned that we would move from a strict fire-response organization to an all-hazards profession that actually does very little firefighting today when I first started.
However, if history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing stands still and stays the same for very long.
That’s why we, as fire service leaders, must always be learning from the past and looking to the future: to see how we can recreate ourselves to serve an ever-changing political, environmental and cultural society.
Where do we begin?
We must start by embracing technology and the advantages it gives us in developing new programs and services that our constituents demand.
The one technology that immediately comes to mind is social media. This platform can be used to stay on top of the pulse of our own communities and monitor what’s taking place in other parts of the world that may affect the services we provide.
The things taking place in the far reaches of this shrinking global community may seem far away today, but tomorrow we may need to embrace change in order to survive.
Another tool every good leader needs to embrace is the ability to do research. Law enforcement has championed this tool for decades and has used it for the placement of resources and tracking of trends to help keep the community safe. Only recently has the fire service started to do research on a regular basis to help build programs based on pure data rather than gut feeling, which has been prevalent for over 250 years.
Look around you and see if any of your neighboring fire departments have hired a dedicated data analyst whose only job is to keep you up to date on trends using empirical data to help drive most if not all of your decision making. I would venture a guess not many fire departments value this tool enough to give up a single line position for this important tool and if this is the case you are making a big mistake.
Education is the last topic I’ll address in helping forecast what we’ll be like in the future. If we haven’t mandated some form of higher-education requirements for middle- to upper-management personnel, we’re doing a disservice to our communities and organizations.
Higher education rounds out those future leaders who have obtained the requisite hands-on training and certifications to go with experience in performing their daily duties.
Here is where our next fire chiefs learn to think strategically and do research to back up their opinions. They’ll be challenged to look into the future and steer their organizations down the right path so they don’t get left behind like Xerox in the 1980s.
What does all this mean?
There is no way we can accurately predict where the fire service will be in 10 to 20 years. However, if we don’t start to prepare our future leaders and provide them the tools to think outside the box and quickly react to what they see coming, we’ll go the same way of many organizations that didn’t react to the changing times and stood on tradition as they slowly faded away.