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Executive Fire Officer: Chief, Are You Prepared to Answer Today`s Tough Questions?

To say that over the last few years the fire service and its leadership has been under attack would be to state the obvious. All leaders within the fire and emergency service must be aware that their managers will be asking hard-hitting questions that they must be prepared to answer.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) has developed a list of 20 tough questions city managers and county administrators should be ready to ask their fire chiefs. These questions can be found on the ICMA website. Every fire chief must download these questions and be prepared, with accurate and up-to-date information, to answer these questions at some point.

These 20 questions posed by ICMA are by no means an exhaustive list of questions you can or will be asked. They are, however, the ones that many city/county managers believe must be answered as they prepare budgets and determine the levels of service they can afford to provide your community both now and in the future.

The IAFC offers a similar resource for fire chiefs, which includes questions and teachable notes to include in your conversations with city officials, Engaging Your City Manager When Confronted with Public Safety Officer (PSO) and Budget Threats.

Do you want your elected officials and city/county managers to determine the levels of service that are appropriate to keeping your responders and citizens safe? That will be the case unless you're prepared to provide your professional input and answers to these and other questions with hard facts, not just your opinions.

No one has all the answers, and we need help understanding why public safety, especially the fire service, is for the first time in decades being attacked on the issue of what level of service is necessary and right for our community. We need to know how to answer these questions and where to find good, current facts and figures to back up our professional recommendations on proper levels of service to our elected officials.

Many of the answers can be found in such studies as Report on Residential Fireground Field Experiments, published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and U.S. Department of Commerce in April of 2010, as well as its companion study Report on EMS Field Experiments (September 2010). The information provided in these independent studies provide factual data and statistics to help support your proposed staffing and response levels, something the ICMA set of questions challenges you to continually justify to your community.

These reports must be a part of your library and reviewed on a regular basis. However, these aren't one-size-fits-all reports by any means. You must use this information and relate it to your particular community for it to be useful to you and your citizens.

Other resources you can use to justify proper service-delivery levels are your ISO ratings and your department accreditation through the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). These programs examine your service levels using an outside, validated process that reviews at all aspects of the service you deliver. They provide you unbiased facts about the service delivery you are currently providing. These processes and their findings can provide you a roadmap for developing future strategic plans aimed at providing the best service delivery possible within your own community's fiscal restraints.

Through an ISO evaluation of your service delivery, your community will see a direct impact on insurance rates if you can lower your current rating. This potential positive financial impact on residential and local business insurance rates must to be shared with your entire community for them to understand why you're requesting resources during the budget process. The ISO report will provide your community and elected officials with information from which to make informed decisions on adequate levels of service for their fire service.

Department accreditation may or may not be within your ability or financial means. However, it's a great tool that provides an inward look at the services you're providing. CPSE has many resources to help you determine if the timing is right for such a study. Use this professional organization to help you, as the fire service leader in your community, decide if this process is one you can undertake, given your department's resources and community's support. If you ultimately decided to undertake this rigorous process, you won't be sorry.

Fire chiefs and fire service leader are being challenged in ways you haven't experienced before in your years of service. You need to think differently about how you reply to the questions being posed to you every day. You can't take these questions personally, but they must be met head-on with factual answers that more than justify your current service-delivery model. Your answers will set the groundwork to improve the lifesaving services you provide to your community if you're prepared to meet these tough questions in a professional and well-prepared manner.

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