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Consolidating Efficiencies of Service in New-Normal Times

Many local, state and even global governments are struggling with the weight of what has been termed the Great Recession. Governments have been besieged by economic challenges that include

  • a housing-market collapse and subsequent readjusting of tax-valuation rolls
  • a decline in employment opportunities
  • municipal defaults 
  • funding pension liabilities
  • rising health-care costs 
  • other operating expenses

In many communities, public safety encompasses well over 50% of government expenditures. This has caused policy makers and administrators alike to reevaluate service-delivery models.

Many communities have been treading water and utilizing tax-reserve funds to help balance municipal budgets in recent years. Many have either experienced or read about the results of such external fiscal pressures: station closures, brownouts, wage and benefit concessions, and unfortunately, reductions in force.

A quote from leadership guru Peter Drucker that “you can either be the architect of change or the tenant of the results” certainly applies to today’s fire service leaders.

There is an opportunity—even an imperative, some may argue—for fire service leaders to fundamentally reexamine their service-delivery paradigms through analytical and service-delivery processes that incorporate both community risk and expectations. Through transparent self-assessment, they can identify opportunities for improvement as well as potential opportunities for collaboration in a regional fashion. These assessments may be conducted through GIS analysis of travel distances and response capabilities that aren’t jurisdictional- or boundary-specific.

Furthermore, a frank conversation about community perceptions and expectations will ensure they’re well informed and knowledge-equipped in forming those expectations. These introspective examinations should not only consider current demand and workload analysis, but also project out to future land use, development and demand projections.

In short, our economic realities have heightened the necessity for our planning for tomorrow to begin today!

Cash-strapped governmental organizations and policymakers are now often faced with unprecedented decisions of how to protect communities with less revenue. The time for analytical and risk analysis is now. It’s needed to ensure policymakers have an educated framework with which to make very important decisions that affect the safety, health and wellness of both the community and the emergency responders.

Decision-making that’s wrought with raw emotion and not based on the analytical review of performance-driven data can have disastrous consequences.

Possible elimination of identified duplications of service should be examined and considered for potential efficiencies in both service delivery and long- and short-term finances. Potential savings can often be realized by consolidating support functions that aren’t necessarily direct service but do provide the critical infrastructure support needed to respond; examples include fleet services, communications, purchasing and other support functions.

The very poignant call to arms by Peter Drucker is timely for fire service leaders as the fire service, like most other professions, adapts to the new normal that confronts our global economy from the global recession.

Todd LeDuc, MS, CFO, CEM, MIFireE, is an assistant fire chief for Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff Fire Rescue. He’s also a director at large for the Safety, Health and Survival Section.

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