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2020 trends: Fire service leaders predict what’s ahead in the new year

From enhanced focus on cancer prevention to managing medication shortages, fire service leaders weigh in on 2020 fire and EMS trends

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Tapping the minds of fire service leaders can help identify those critical tops that should be top of mind for chiefs, officers and firefighters alike.

Photo/Seth Lasko

With a seemingly endless list of to-do’s, new programs to foster, and a roster of members to keep safe, many fire service leaders may find themselves unsure where to focus their attention. And while every department has its own unique priorities, there are some topics that will likely dominate the conversation, forcing fire service leaders to shift focus to issues as they become more dominant in the headlines or increasing vital to the wellbeing of members.

It would be nice to be able to anticipate such shifts, but it’s not always easy to predict where an industry is headed. The good news: Tapping the minds of fire service leaders can help identify those critical tops that should be top of mind for chiefs, officers and firefighters alike.

We asked the chairs of several IAFC sections to share their predictions for 2020 fire and EMS trends. Here’s what they shared.

Company officer-focused trends

Randall W. Hanifen, PhD – a captain with the West Chester (Ohio) Fire-Rescue and chair of the IAFC Company Officers Section (COS) – predicts 2020 trends to involve cancer prevention and soft skills adoption at the company officer level as well as further adoption of succession management in fire agencies:

“Cancer prevention primarily centers on taking steps at a fire, as well as post-fire, that are all directly overseen by the company officer. If we can change the attitudes of the first-line supervisor and provide them the information and tools to ensure their members reduce exposures, and take post-exposure steps to reduce the carcinogen effects, we can stop what is readily being seen as the number 1 killer of firefighters.

“Further, as we continue to compete for a smaller applicant pool that is of a higher education level and background, our success will be in the treatment of our members. The proper treatment, and subsequent reduction in legal actions, is only accomplished through development of soft skills in our first line supervisors.

“Lastly, the IAFC COS has viewed this issue as the core of the COS placement in the IAFC: Having quality personnel with the proper knowledge, skills and abilities, as well as the proper experiences, becomes key to every fire service organization’s success. The ability to deliver the service to the community is primarily dependent upon human capital and proper leadership.”

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Safety and health trends

Scott D. Kerwood – chief of Hutto (Texas) Fire Rescue and chair of the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section – sees the biggest safety- and health-focused trends facing the fire service in 2020 as the increase in cardiac- and cancer-related firefighter fatalities as well as the increase in the number of fire departments that provide an NFPA 1582 physicals for their members:

“Cardiac issues is the #1 killer of firefighters. We have to do more to bring this to the attention of firefighters so they can adjust their lifestyle to reduce this number.

“As it relates to cancer, we have only begun to scratch the surface on knowing how many firefighters are dying, or have died, due to occupational cancers. We must continue studying ways to reduce these numbers.

“Finally, NFPA 1582 physicals save lives!”

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EMS trends

Mike McEvoy – chief for Saratoga County, NY, EMS and chair of the IAFC EMS Section – believes 2020 EMS trends will involve degree requirements for entry-level paramedics, EMS nomenclature changes, and managing emergency medication shortages:

“While the IAFC supports all levels of fire and EMS providers in pursuing collegiate degrees and higher education, the current proposals to mandate a college degree for entry-level paramedics will result in untenable costs to communities and massive increases in paramedic shortages.

“Additionally, renaming EMS to paramedicine and naming all levels of providers as ‘paramedics’ would result in role confusion, difficulty identifying individual skill sets at major incidents, and not serve to improve the image of EMS in our communities.

“Finally, patients are suffering every day from critical shortages of emergency medications. The IAFC is pushing for legislation that would address these critical shortages that endanger the public we serve.”

Executive fire officer-related trends

Jo-Ann Lorber – chief of Fort Lauderdale (Florida) Fire Rescue and chair of the IAFC Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Section – predicts 2020 trends as inclusive of more developmental programs geared toward becoming an executive officer (e.g., credentialing, the new EFO program, certified emergency managers), increased access to various conduits to enhance leadership development (ICMA, police associations, private section), and lastly, increasing collaboration between other IAFC divisions and/or sections:

“As times change, so must fire rescue agencies. Gone are the days that all we respond to are fires. Today, and moving into the future, we must ensure that our personnel are educated, credentialed and prepared to face the upcoming challenges in our communities.

“Many fire chiefs are tasked with being emergency managers along with their duties as fire chiefs but wonder if they truly have the proper training to for this important role, especially when it comes to climate change, sustainability and resilience. It is the EFO Section’s mission to ensure that chief officers are provided information on developmental programs, education, certifications, etc., to prepare them and to assist with succession planning for their future leaders.”

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Federal and military fire service trends

Todd Canale – chief of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Based in Arizona and chair of the Federal & Military Fire Services Section – focuses his 2020 trend prediction on two pieces of legislation, H.R. 1174 – Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2019 and S. 1790/H.R. 2500 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020:

“The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act would grant a presumptive disability to firefighters who are designated with heart disease, lung disease, HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis A, B, C, and 14 types of cancer. The firefighter would have to have been employed as a firefighter for a minimum of five years in aggregate and illness must be diagnosed within 10 years of the last active date of employment as a firefighter.

“For the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020 (S. 1790/H.R. 2500), if it was adopted, the Department of Defense would no longer be able to purchase firefighting foam that contains PFAS starting October 2022. By October 2023, the Secretary of Defense would have to stop the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS and dispose of all foam containing PFAS. The Secretary of the Navy would be directed to publish a military specification for fluorine-free AFFF by February 2025 with an in-service date no later than 2027. In addition, the Secretary of Defense would provide blood testing to determine and document potential exposure to PFAS for each firefighter of the Department of Defense during the annual physical exam conducted by the department for firefighters, starting in October 2020.

“Both pieces of legislation have far reaching impacts on federal and military firefighters in terms of presumptive cancer laws and preventive screening to identify carcinogens and abnormalities that, if treated, can reduce the mortality rate of firefighters enterprise-wide.

“In addition, with the abolition and removal of the current aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) from service, a suitable substitute will need to be developed with similar use and application characteristics to be used in both the existing vehicle fleet and fixed-facility systems throughout the Department of Defense within the next five to 10 years.”

Editor’s Note: What trends do you predict for 2020? Share in the comments below or write us at

Janelle Foskett is the editor-in-chief of, responsible for defining original editorial content, tracking industry trends, managing expert contributors and leading execution of special coverage efforts. She also serves as the co-host of FireRescue1’s Better Every Shift podcast. Foskett joined the Lexipol team in 2019 and has nearly 20 years of experience in fire service media and publishing. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and a certificate in technical communications from the University of California, San Diego. Ask questions or submit ideas via email.