The fire service has always adapted to the needs of its communities, often with the mantra of doing more with less. Never has this been truer than in the last several years, as departments have experienced budget cuts and personnel reductions while doing everything possible to maintain the level of service they’re expected to deliver.
However, all-hazard emergency service is taking on new meaning, and department leaders are figuring out that there’s more than one way to accomplish not only their mission but additional services as well.
The true definition of all-hazard emergency service may vary from community to community, but the fundamentals remain the same: fire, EMS, hazmat and technical rescue, and the list goes on.
As if these services weren’t enough, department leaders are exploring and implementing new areas of service delivery to further serve their communities in such areas as community paramedicine, public education, prevention and even walk-in clinics in the fire stations.
Some may think this is justifying a department’s existence, but in reality, these additions should be commended and embraced at all levels; these are viable methods that proactively reduce the number of emergency incidents we respond to.
Partnerships with local hospitals, manufacturers and local health facilities reduce the number of emergency calls by providing a valuable service to the community instead of reactive services we’re used to. This is our mission and it brings about an approach to all-hazard emergency response that we should embrace as we all think more proactively to prevent emergencies from ever occurring.
Speaking of partnerships, many departments have mutual- and automatic-aid agreements in place for fire suppression. But why do many agencies limit these agreements to suppression and not include all the other disciplines we’re responsible for?
Through collaborative efforts and regional response, departments can improve those specialized disciplines they struggle to maintain and deliver, such as hazmat and technical rescue, at the expected level of effectiveness and safety. The reality is these disciplines are expensive to maintain, the amount of specialized knowledge and experience is tremendous and the training is extensive for the low-frequency events.
In addition, not every department needs to retain technician-level response in these areas—based on identified community risks—when effective response can be managed through regional response teams and agreements with other organizations, allowing for a larger pool of resources.
If we’re going to respond together, why not train together? Not only should training together be welcome; it should be mandatory. ISO recognizes this fact and awards points for the frequency of training with automatic aid companies.
Departments can use many FEMA regional grants to enhance collaborative training. For example, departments can apply to purchase hazmat training props to replicate a community’s hazards. This allows responders to train together and ultimately increase capabilities and level of response.
Hazmat is just one example. We all know that when a hazmat emergency occurs, in many cases it involves a regional response. So why not start this response in training?
However, the reality is that many leaders simply pay lip service to these concepts, never realizing the true benefits of proactive efforts and mutual aid. For a multitude of reasons, department leaders want to protect their own, don’t trust their neighboring departments, are afraid to change their current response models to change to new programs, or simply allow their egos to get in the way.
But, if we’re truly addressing all the hazards we’re responsible for, it’s time to think differently, be bold, accept change and—in many cases—get out of our way.
All-hazard emergency response can be addressed successfully and more comprehensively by thinking outside the box with proactive, preventative programs and through regional-response concepts and mutual-aid agreements. Each provides a tremendous benefit to departments as well as communities, allowing for enhanced levels of service and ultimately better all-hazards emergency response.
It’s time to address all hazards differently than ever before as we do more and provide more for our communities and our first responders.