Public safety, in terms of funding, typically consumes more than 80% of a municipal operating budget. This high percentage reflects the great pride that community members and elected officials take in their fire and emergency services.
Emergency medical service and fire service personnel are the apples of most communities' eyes, heroes from a 9/11 era—that is, until people start losing their jobs, kids start moving back in with their parents and one in five mortgages are under water.
In the new economic reality, government officials must make difficult funding decisions for their communities as revenue dwindles and demand for services increases. One critical piece of information, at best underreported and at worst nonexistent, is a common performance metric for these critical services.
If two similar communities pay the same amount of taxes for their fire and emergency response, you would assume that the service levels delivered would be about the same. However, how could an elected official or resident measure that assumption? To do so, best management practices in the fire service, including risk assessment, task analysis, concentration and reliability of response forces, must be established, measured and published in a common language.
One such method of measuring performance is through the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE), which has developed an approach to help elected officials and residents clearly articulate a performance language for all of the business in which the fire service is actively engaged.
Often, community members tell me they want a fast response from their fire departments, with well-trained people and good equipment to quickly solve their problems. Even so, shortly after 9/11, one community I know of suffered three failures of their tax-funding levy. After the third failure, community leaders made it clear to their elected officials that the issue wasn't about love—it was about money. They really do love their fire department and the members who bravely serve, but they can separate that love from their money in the absence of proven value.
Aside from credible emergency response, people value the fire service's ability to reduce community risk through prevention and education, managing funds well, training people properly, managing human resources, maintaining external relationships and much more. The Commission of Fire Accreditation International through CPSE provides baselines and benchmarks for all of these through its accreditation program.
Your community members want to know their money is performing in a credible way and they're getting the biggest bang for their taxpayer buck. Without a standard measurement for levels of service, they're stuck with a tax bill without a way to measure value. We should encourage and in some cases require that agencies that spend millions of tax dollars each year perform to a common standard that's based on science and best management practices. We owe that to our communities.