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How did your department fare in 2010?

Now is a great time to begin to plan for how to approach those who manage your purse strings

My topic for the annual wrap-up this time last year was about the upcoming budget impacts that departments were feeling or would be feeling soon. At the risk of polishing my Nostradamus prognostication award, how accurate were my predictions?

Looking at the consistent fire department impacts from around the nation, I would say there were no surprises. Looking back on a significant number of articles on FireRescue1, there were numerous stories regarding lay-offs, budget cuts, station brownouts and budgetary shortfalls across the country.

While the majority of articles seemed to be regarding the larger departments (with larger budgets), let’s be honest: every department was impacted by the economic downturn.

People are still feeling the sting of adjusting to the financial impacts of the economy. Just recently, President Obama offered the idea that the freezing of Federal civilian employees’ salaries will save significant money over the next five years (even though the freeze was to be for two years).

While the public has been cutting budgets and corners, we now see the Federal Government offering to submit themselves to the same impacts the rest of the country has suffered through for three years.

Gradual upturn
If economic indicators continue as they are, it may be that we are beginning to see a very gradual upturn in employment, jobs creation and consumer confidence. But, believe me when I say that it will still be a long time until we are able to operate with anywhere near the comfort level we had regarding staffing, purchasing ability and improving our bottom line.

So, here we sit on the lower end of the economic curve and I wonder if we are looking ahead toward the future and what that will look like for you and your department when things begin to improve.

As the economy slowly turns around, many hope that if we just let events happen, things will be back to where they were before the financial crisis began.

If the housing market can make a turnaround, we will hopefully start to see a gradual increase in tax dollars returning to your county and city coffers. But you need to understand that rarely does a thing return to where we want it without intervention and guidance.
Now that the local governments have been forced to cut their budgets to meet a new lower bottom line, where do you believe these funds that will eventually return from taxes will be applied? Do you feel confident that the dollars cut from your budget will be the first to return? Think again!

The fire service is famous for showing our ability to deal with nearly any impact and not complain. This historical stance, if we allow ourselves to repeat history, will ensure that we will be one of the last budgets that are refilled from the increase in tax revenue.

If you do not loudly voice your anger and force the conversation to occur, those monies will go to other budgets long before you are able to justify their return to your political bosses!

This would be a great time to start marshalling your data and arguments and begin to plan for how to approach those who manage your purse strings and start putting ideas into their minds.

Persistent reminders
While there may be limited funds at this time, consistent, persistent reminders to your bosses at this time will help plant the seed that things are not anywhere near the levels of safety we had or have ever had.

Ensure that they understand that significant impacts were met by the professionals who serve the public that funds them, and that to keep the public safe those funds should be first returned to the coffers that serve and protect!

Over the past few years I have had the honor of writing for you, my peers and critics, while addressing topics regarding strategy and tactics. All of my articles written for FireRescue1 to date deal with how to manage emergency fireground actions to deliver safe, effective methods for fire service professionals while they take care of their constituents.

It would be hypocritical of me to not provide the same advice to those whose service to an irritated and angry public has been a consistent calm during these times of financial storms.

For those professionals who have provided that service, with reduced funding and at the same level of proficiency and professionalism they have always done, I know how difficult it has been to keep your positive demeanor and continue to take care of business.

Please work to ensure your department gets back what was cut when the financial meltdown took hold. Call for the return of the brothers and sisters who were laid off, and campaign to restore those vital capital projects that had to be shelved.

Pay attention and do not let those budget monies be reassigned to others who deserve far less than those who risk it all. God Bless and have a great 2011!

Michael Lee teaches firefighters the ‘Street Smarts’ they need to survive in some of the most dangerous situations they encounter: ice rescues, basement fires, and structural collapses. Read Lee’s advice in his FireRescue1 exclusive column.