As I write this column, today is Election Day in the United States. So today's a good day to think about the future and how our decisions and actions shape what our future will look like. No matter who has won and no matter whether you're happy about it, a new chapter has begun in America's story.
But, this column isn't about politics or politicians; it's about us and what actions the fire and emergency service will take to remain relevant, dynamic and inspiring characters as the story unfolds.
I feel I can safely predict some plot lines that we'll see, regardless of who has won the election:
- The president of the United States will have a very difficult time on the road to economic recovery.
- No matter what type of tax reform the U.S. Congress is able to pass over the next two years—if any—federal spending will be trimmed back.
- Federal cuts will mean fewer fire grants, continued budget cuts for the USFA, less funds for the State Homeland Security Program and just fewer initiatives for the fire service, in general.
We've all heard the phrase the New Normal, but what does it really mean for us in the fire and emergency service? Can we remain a hero of the story without being the tragic hero?
The fire service has never been as challenged as it is now, and I worry that the can-do attitude of an all-hazard fire and emergency service may be in jeopardy unless we start looking at how we are going to do business in the future. As we approach a new year, a new mix of elected officials at the local, state and federal governments and a new economic environment, we need put our minds to the task of leading our own change.
The national fire service organizations need to identify and come together on the common issues related to our sustainability. We won't agree on everything, but we at least need to identify what the priority issues are and be pulling in the same direction.
The same holds true at the local level, where emotions and history can create unnecessary roadblocks to our success. Labor and management should strengthen their relationships, fire and EMS need to work collaboratively with other agencies, and volunteer and career responders need to focus on their common goals.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the men and women of the New South Wales (Australia) Fire Department, which is made up of both volunteer and career organizations. Each organization has its own traditions, its own identity and its own leadership, yet they make it work to bring the best each offers to the people they protect.
We need to find alternative paths to success of the fire service. Fire departments and their elected officials must keep an open mind to nontraditional approaches of service delivery. The fire and emergency service needs to find solutions that best fit the community needs and financial ability.
For example, consolidating fire departments and resources across jurisdictions has proven effective for many communities around the country. So why don't we see more of it?
We have some great minds in the fire and emergency service and many men and women with a knack for innovation and a passion to serve. We can't forget that we also have many champions in our communities who can help us on our way.
This past year was marked by continued economic troubles, divisive politics and fire service PR nightmares. But by keeping an open mind and a willingness to find solutions, I'm confident we can take this new chapter from "It was a dark and stormy night…" to a happy ending.
Chief Hank Clemmensen
President and Chairman of the Board