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Who moved the fire service’s cheese in 2011?

The cheese we have enjoyed in the fire service has changed and doesn’t taste too good


AP Photo/Steven Senne

My favorite book, Who Moved My Cheese, is by Spencer Johnson, M.D. Through this quick read, you will learn about four little characters that are in the maze of life.

Two characters are named Sniff and Scurry, and they are mice. The other two characters are Hem and Haw, and they are little people.
They all begin at Cheese Station C where they enjoy the great things in life like security and tasty cheese.

However, Sniff and Scurry taste a change in the cheese that they don’t like and they journey out into the maze of life to find new and better cheese.

Hem and Haw, however, deny there is any change, and are reluctant to face it. The book in itself is well worth a read, but particularly as it has so much relevance to us in the fire service.

The cheese we have enjoyed in the fire service has changed and doesn’t taste too good.

How to survive
While it’s not as easy for members of the fire service to journey out into the maze because we are locked down in a secure job, we should begin thinking about the strategies of how to survive in this new age that we have seen in 2011.

It all comes down to using the resources we have more wisely, and how we market ourselves.

When we consider the deployment of resources, are we using them to our fullest advantage? What does the public think when we send a multitude of apparatus and personnel to a general sick call? What cost cutting measures are we implementing in our departments and how does it affect our business model?

Better yet…what is your business model? These are just a few of the many questions that the fire service needs to be prepared to answer as we move into 2012.

Need to change
The deployment model will need to change in 2012 for many agencies. I’m all for as many butts on the truck as it will seat, and as many in the firehouse as it will sleep, but that model is changing.

How will departments that have been accustomed to having bountiful resources handle a reduction in personnel and changing their deployment model?

Answer: Ask the volunteers and smaller departments. They have been doing it for years. But hold on…this isn’t just for the big boys!
Volunteer departments have been experiencing a change in their volunteer recruitment and retention for some time. As the economy continues to hurt, individuals are faced with working more jobs, longer hours, and have less time to volunteer.

People have less money to donate, which also is hurting many volunteer fundraisers. How are they going to cope?

Perhaps dialogue between career and volunteer departments would be in the best interest of all. Our cry is for firefighter safety. How will changing deployment models affect that?

Less people doesn’t always mean less safety, but it does mean less work we can do with those we have, which will eventually affect service delivery.

Reflect back on my last column, Why We Need A Culture of Safe Suppression. Maybe the popularity of aggressive exterior firefighting will gain in popularity?

How we market ourselves
The second item we need to look closely at is how we market ourselves. Social media is not going away; in fact, it will only develop into new and more creative ways we get information.

What we say on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and other forums will continue to get us in trouble. We must maintain a professional image to those who trust us.

And we must stop saying that if the public doesn’t care about us, then why should we care about them?

Are you kidding me? I’ve seen that so many times of late in blogs and posts. The old Pogo cartoon used to have a saying, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

Do you think the people in Tennessee have a respectful perception of the fire service when two houses burned because subscription fees weren’t paid? Right, wrong, or indifferent, how people FEEL about the incident carries the day.

Fire departments will need to be more creative in community involvement. Open up your firehouses and stop living in a secret society behind closed bay doors, because this is “your house.”

This is their house too, and they need to be a part of it. They need to know how hard you work in training, call volume, EMS calls, hose testing, apparatus and equipment maintenance, physical fitness, stress, sleep deprivation, EMS calls, studying for promotions, public education, EMS calls, company inspections, pre-fire planning, and last but not least, EMS calls.

If you wait until the budget cuts are on the table before you start telling your story and trying to build support, you’re too late. Market yourself now!

Be involved
Don’t just show up to community meetings on emergency responder appreciation day. Be involved in the associations to drive the agendas to get your name, your department’s name, and your message in front of the voters.

Be a part of the community proactively and not just reactively. Never forget the political process either. Refer back to my article “Firefighter Safety: How Politics Play A Part.”

Marketing ourselves to our politicians in a professional-business way gains us a better seat at the budget table rather than casting stones at them once the damage is done.

2012 will be another exciting year and we will have to see how everything evolves. There is nothing to say that anything I have said in the aforementioned will or will not work.

But I’ve got a couple of rodeos under my belt, and have managed an eight-second ride a few times! Where will your cheese be in 2012 and are you brave enough to take the journey into the maze to find it?

Buckle up, hold on tight, and be safe!

Note: Billy D. Hayes will be presenting “A Business With No Sign Is A Sign of No Business” at Firehouse World in San Diego on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 from 9:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.

Billy D. Hayes retired as fire chief for the City of Onalaska, Wisconsin, in 2020. He previously served as the fire marshal for the University of South Alabama, vice president of university relations for Columbia Southern University, the director of community affairs for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department, and as the fire chief and emergency management coordinator for the City of Riverdale, Georgia. He is a graduate of Georgia Military College and Columbia Southern University, the NFA’s Executive Fire Officer Program, and has a certificate in local government management from the University of Georgia. Hayes is a past president of the Metro Atlanta Fire Chiefs Association and past chairman of the board for the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation. He authored the Public Fire and Life Safety Education chapter of “The Fire Chief’s Handbook” (7th Edition). Hayes is a member of the Fire Chief/FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board. Connect with Hayes on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.