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The Evolution in Fire Service Concepts

The economy, competition and a changing business environment require companies to diversify, change their business plans and adapt. Television networks change their programming to compete with each other, cable channels and the internet for decreasing market share.

When our grandparents (or great grandparents) first started driving, the choice of cars was often between Ford and Chevrolet; in the 1920s, 40% of all cars sold in the United States were the Ford Model T. Competing internationally means automakers must change their models, technology or leadership. Automakers look ahead and introduce us to concept cars that may not be available.

The fire service has evolved far past having fire buckets outside each home to concepts never before envisioned. Boston Fire Chief John Damrell helped drive this evolution in 1866 when he warned about the dangers of fire, the lack of compatible fire hydrants, water supply issues and the need for building and fire codes. Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini did it with fire command (ICS) and customer service. Fire departments have done it with regulations requiring smoke detectors, carbon-monoxide detectors and commercial and residential sprinklers.

FDNY is doing it by working with Underwriters Laboratories and the National Institute of Standards and Technologies to study the effects of fire tactics and ventilation in consideration of modern furnishings and plastics. FDNY Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano wants to know if ventilation, using traditional methods in modern environments, is hurting more than helping.

Many concepts have come from need as the traditional fire suppression department has evolved into the more-accurate emergency services. Other concepts have been forced upon us: lightweight construction, weapons of mass destruction and active-shooter incidents.

Social media has impacted the fire service in ways never imagined. We have the opportunity to electronically inform, educate, entertain and invite people to become a part of our departments, essentially becoming virtual firefighters.

In searching for new models in emergency services, one of the tougher requirements is to identify when new leadership is needed.

In sports, when teams start to lose, a decision eventually must be made to bring in a new coach—it's time for new leadership or a new direction. Legal problems and votes of no confidence aside, how do we recognize when we've become stagnant? Do we really know what we're looking for?

In Massachusetts, popular Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, plagued with health problems, has elected not to run for reelection. The mayor said he was back to a mayor schedule, but not a Menino schedule, recognizing he couldn't do the job as he had done it for so many years. The Catholic Church's Pope Benedict XVI made history by being the first pope to resign in 600 years; he recognized he could no longer properly lead. What a difficult but courageous decision.

New concepts and practices in the fire service have come about from the economic need to offset budget cuts while maintaining levels of service. These include alternate revenue sources from private-public partnerships such as Adopt-A-Fire Station programs, interfacility transports, even ads on fire apparatus.

In Grand Island, Neb., according to TheIndependent.com, Chief Cory Schmidt wants to restructure the department's management team, creating shift commanders and hiring a civilian life-safety inspector. Chief Schmidt's plan is to save money, conduct more building inspections and promote a system that provides mentoring of personnel while developing a better succession plan.

We've seen regionalization and consolidation efforts grow to levels never before expected.

Boston Fire now has an app for its Adopt-A-Hydrant program, which has been adopted by other cities—a concept Chief Damrell couldn't possibly have envisioned when he first raised concerns about the lack of hydrants in his city.

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