It seems only a short while ago that we were preparing for "Y2K" and dealing with the aftermath of Sept. 11. Time seems to fly when we are busy, and let's face it, busy has taken on a new meaning in just about every aspect of public safety in recent years.
Between redefining the services we provide and stretching dwindling resources farther than ever, sweeping change has been a central theme for most fire departments.
About the only thing that I can envision that will be the same moving into next year is that change will be a constant part of our business. Here are my top five changes to watch for.
Prediction 1: Fire research and scientific testing will expand
Not only will we see more scientific testing in the coming year, but we'll see the results of that testing change not only our beliefs about fire but our everyday tactics for fighting it.
Through the research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, our industry, for the first time, is conducting scientific validation of conventional strategy and tactics typically applied at a structure fire. The results helps us better understand the effectiveness of long-standing operational tactical and strategic truths.
A blinding flash of the obvious is that we should have applied scientific research years ago to every "timeless tactical truth." That did not happen, but the empirical truth is now starting to clearly emerge — like breathing from a compressed air cylinder in a hazard zone — and we need to embrace it.
I was in one of the first volunteer fire officer's academies offered by the Prince George's County Fire Department. The instructors were the best career firefighting officers that PGFD had to offer. What an honor to learn with from these outstanding and extremely capable men.
They taught that one of the best ways to lose a fire fight and potentially hurt one of our own is to push the fire with a hose line into the unburned areas.
With all due respect to the great PGFD leaders of old, this statement is simply not true.
Today, NIST scientists are quick to point out that pushing fire around with a hose line does not occur. In the dozens of full-scale structural fire tests (in both Chicago and New York), the fire could not be pushed to another area of the building.
Likewise, flashover over is not a survivable event. To be clear, if a firefighter is in a room that goes to flashover (not post flashover or rollover), the best turnout gear and SCBA cannot withstand these temperatures.
Another interesting discovery from the test burns is that as a room and contents nears flashover, the entire overhead structural members burn from the bottom layer to the top layer.
In a many of the full-scale fire tests, the carpeting on the floor above the fire appeared to be completely intact, hence the flooring materials appeared stable. The average firefighter would not recognized this fact during the rigger of advancing a hose line on to the unsupported carpet.
We will hear much more about this on-going scientific research and this information will revolutionize the art of fire extinguishment. I can only hope that the health and safety of every firefighter benefits from the application of this breakthrough in fire science research.
Prediction 2: Funding will be attacked
The votes have been casted and counted; America is going to stay under Democratic executive control. From a legislative perspective, we will continue to have a congress divided between the two mainstream parties.
With the amount of chatter that we have already heard, all aspects of federal fire protection funding and grants will once again be in grave jeopardy. Most first responders are asking, "What's new about that?"
I predict yet another attack on every national fire program with the aim of reducing or completely cutting them.
It is no time to rest on our laurels but time to rally around the Congressional Fire Service Institute and come together as a unified industry to protect the small allotment that we have enjoyed in the past.
Most cities are cash strapped and all that we bring to the financial table is tremendous amount of liability. Perhaps we are entering a period when serious efforts need to be focused on alternative funding sources to support fire-rescue services, which is an area for national fire associations to focus their efforts.
And If the immigration laws are relaxed, as projected, there will be operational an impact along with the recruitment concerns and opportunities. Further challenges will involve dealing with language barriers and cultural norms. We will need to learn and understand how to reach all of our customers.
Prediction 3: Alternative EMS services will emerge
Look for changes to America's healthcare system and its component parts that will effect ambulance service reimbursements. These changes will likely widen the gap between the cost of delivering pre-hospital care and reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance payers.
Knowing that the cost and demand for ambulance services will continue to increase, the fire-rescue service will need to keep looking for measures to control the rising costs. Among the issues to be addressed in the immediate future are the lengthy emergency response times in urban communities and systemic misuse of the 911 systems for non-emergencies.
In the last urban fire department where I worked, an internal analysis revealed that just 20 addresses generated 10 percent of all EMS calls, and just 20 individuals accounted for 2.8 percent of all EMS transports. This was in a system that responded to more than 120,000 EMS incidents and transported over 75,000 patients per year.
The analysis revealed a strong correlations between high-volume 911 use and the conditions of homelessness, chronic public inebriation, addiction, mental illness, and lack of access to primary and preventative care. The mortality rate was high for this group as well.
The solution was to solve some of their complex needs. Designated teams identified the highest-risk, highest-volume system users and performed targeted interventions to move them out of the emergency medical system and into more appropriate and effective healthcare programs.
Prediction 4: Command and control will get more local
How we manage incidents will change, or more accurately, continue to move in the direction it is already heading.
The Local Incident Management System, also known as Blue Card, has been adopted by many large and small fire departments and is a simple, straightforward command-and-control platform. The training program consists of a 60-hour on-line course followed by a 24-hour certification session.
Each participant is tested on handling 10 types of responses as both the initial incident commander (first arriving engine) and as the incident commander (first arriving chief officer) for 20 evaluations in the hot seat before Blue Card certification is awarded. Recertification is required regular intervals.
It just makes sense that there would be a comprehensive command-and-control course to handle the "little ones." The National Incident Management System is the best process known for handling the Type 1, 2 and 3 incidents.
I predict that more departments in 2013 will implement this system.
Prediction 5: Apparatus will pollute less
The Environmental Protection Agency granted short-term relief for fire apparatus and ambulances relating to their diesel engine emission control systems. The completed implementation of the revised air-quality requirements was to be in place by 2013.
The reprieve came because of engine problems caused by selective catalytic reduction technology that cleans emissions. There were some cases where the fire engine did not properly perform after a long engine idling period.
I suspect that most see this ruling as a major victory, preventing one more unfunded mandate from being leveraged against our industry. However, we need to be careful about side stepping the clean diesel requirements.
We have a responsibility to keep researching ways to reduce our carbon footprint. When you consider cities such as Los Angles and Atlanta having about 100 orange and red air pollution days per year, we need to do out part.
Perhaps the engine emission research will incorporate a battery-powered system to operate the warning lights and air conditioning when the emergency vehicle would otherwise be idling.