What’s next for the fire service? Fire service leaders offer 2022 projections

FireRescue1 contributors ponder what firefighters will face next, after two years of considerable challenges


It’s been nearly two years since the modern era changed with the introduction of COVID-19. 2020 was brutal; there is no doubt about that. While we hoped 2021 would bring some relief, so much of the year could be summarized by the same themes – staffing challenges, politically charged debates and, most consequentially, the deaths of first responders from the virus.

The pandemic continues to present challenges, but as we start to emerge from its darkest period, we look forward, imagining what the new year will bring. Will it be more of the same? Will we finally be able to shift focus to new challenges and opportunities?

We asked FireRescue1 board members, columnists and contributors to share their projections and predictions for 2022. Their comments focus on the future – collaborations, staffing, health and more, well beyond the hyper-focus of the pandemic.

"The pandemic continues to present challenges, but as we start to emerge from its darkest period, we look forward, imagining what the new year will bring," writes Foskett. (Photo/Getty Images)

What do you believe lies ahead for the fire service in 2022? Share you comments below or email editor@firerescue1.com.

Phil Stittleburg: The lessons will serve us well

We entered 2021 cautiously optimistic. We had survived nearly a year of operating in the COVID-19 environment, learned a lot, and vaccines were on the horizon. Perhaps the end was in sight. We leave 2021 disappointed, disillusioned and wondering when all of this will end. Will 2022 be the year when we finally turn the corner? The latest news reports certainly raise doubt. But we do know this much: The lessons learned over the past two years, some at great cost, will serve us well going forward. We draw strength from the knowledge that we have once again demonstrated our capacity to take on new challenges, adapt to rapidly changing conditions, and continue to do the work that we are so fortunate to perform.

Phil Stittleburg is fire chief of the La Farge (Wisconsin) Fire Department, former chair of the National Volunteer Fire Council, and past president of the IFE-USA branch.

John Butler: Collaboration and partnerships

The more progressive fire service organization will invest in collaboration and partnerships – and not just fire department to fire department, but also with public health, law enforcement, neighborhood and community services, faith-based organizations, school systems, academia, and data analytics, to name a few. 

John Butler is the fire chief for the Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department.

Vince Bettinazzi: All about recruitment

The fire service is going to have to continue to compete for qualified and interested applicants throughout the next year. Departments are going to have to learn how to creatively recruit potential new members, and successfully advertise in order to keep up with the demands.

Vincent Bettinazzi is a battalion chief with the Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Fire Department.

Jason Caughey: Increased expectations

I project an increased demand for a variety of social services in our community. Our communities will continue to need more help as we address new concerns from COVID. I also see a higher expectation on service, professionalism and character. We have all seen the increased challenges that our law enforcement sisters and brothers encountered over the last few years. I believe we too need to be prepared for more and higher expectations from our communities.

Even as our resources are stretch well beyond our primary mission, we will bond together and accept the challenge that our community places on us and overcome those challenges because of the strength of our people. Our people will again shine in 2022 because of their heart, compassion, service to each other and our community.

Jason Caughey is the fire chief of Laramie County Fire District #2 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Marc Bashoor: Fire-based EMS and CRR

I believe we will see an exponential leap in telehealth and mobile integrated health programs. This will directly impact fire-based EMS providers and the fire service in general. This may negatively impact the general push for fire-based EMS expansions; however, I believe we will see more fire and EMS departments embrace all of these relatable fire and EMS programs in comprehensive community risk reduction (CRR) programs.

Chief Marc S. Bashoor serves as the FireRescue1 and Fire Chief executive editor.

Andrew Beck: The power of data

2022 may very well be the year we start to rely on data and statistics more than ever. The impact of the pandemic meant tighter budgets in some places, and extra money flowing to assist with programs in other places. Data will be needed to justify existing budgets, and to document impacts and achievements tied to extra funding. More data and use of electronic platforms mean we also might have to become more aware of cybersecurity risks. Any new technology we add will have vulnerabilities associated with it, and the fire service hasn’t always been on the forefront of technology.

Andrew Beck is the training officer for the Mandan City (N.D.) Fire Department.

Billy Goldfeder: All about staffing

2022 will all come down to STAFFING. We continue to see career departments being challenged in finding people who actually want to do this job. Cities are seeing far fewer people apply, and when it comes down to background check, far fewer people can pass. On the career side, we need to identify why people aren't joining.

On the volunteer side, it is common for departments to tone out with little to no response, or a response of senior members (retirees) of age 60+ attempting to keep the service going. When the public drives by many volunteer departments, the warm fuzzy feeling of those trucks being ready to roll is a false alarm of reality. Volunteer departments need to immediately look at in-house duty crews to ensure a response – one that requires all members to participate.

Billy Goldfeder is the deputy chief for the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, and also serves as senior fire advisor to FireRescue1/Lexipol.

Aaron Zamzow: Resilience and balance

I believe we’ll see an increased focused on resilience – balancing fitness, nutrition and mental health to improve performance on and off the fire/rescue scene. As an industry, we have been very good and creating awareness about being fit, being aware of our mental health, balancing our home life, and in 2022, we need to put it all together and apply it! How? First responders need to evaluate lifestyle and habits both at work and at home and create a personal wellness program that focuses on fitness, nutrition and mental health.

Aaron Zamzow is a firefighter/training officer for Madison (Wisconsin) Fire Department.

Robert Rielage: Station design for wellness

The firefighter safety emphasis for 2022 will focus on our mental and physical wellbeing. This might include an “800” phone line, funded by a coalition of fire service organizations, for any firefighter to talk to a counselor when they are having difficulty handling trauma, addiction or other personal issues. Further, I believe part of our emphasis on wellbeing will include designing new fire stations that are more livable and accommodating for the health and safety of their firefighters.

Robert R. Rielage is the former Ohio fire marshal and has been a chief officer in several departments for more than 30 years. 

Linda F. Willing: The return of in-person learning

After nearly two years of mostly distanced and virtual personal connections, I predict that 2022 will be the beginning of a change back to face-to-face live training, community events, and social encounters. It won’t happen all at once, and it will happen with caution, as it should, but it is not possible to be a firefighter virtually. All firefighters who have been on the front lines of the pandemic since the beginning know this, but many in-person aspects of the job, such as training and public education, were taken away over the past two years. It’s time for them to return.

Linda Willing is a retired career fire officer and current president of RealWorld Training & Consulting.

Rom Duckworth: The increasing threat of “boring” hazards

No firefighter got into the job because they wanted to talk about infection control, cancer awareness or mental health. But now that we recognize the significant threat that these more “boring” hazards pose to firefighters, we need to get better at those, too. They pose a significant and growing threat to firefighters, regardless of department size or background.

I hope and pray that in 2022, the fire service makes significant progress in speaking more openly about these topics and takes them seriously. I hope that 2022 is the year that it becomes standard practice for departments to provide resources to firefighters to protect themselves and help each other stay healthy in a profession that we continue to learn is dangerous in insidious ways many of us didn’t understand when we first joined.

Rom Duckworth is a career fire captain and paramedic EMS coordinator for the Ridgefield (Connecticut) Fire Department. 

Jim Spell: A slew of changes

I’d like to make several predictions for 2022:

  • Firefighters will need more protection from violence.
  • Safety officers will become a critical component of emergency response.
  • Law enforcement will be required to respond to ALL fire/EMS calls.
  • Electric fire apparatus will begin to enhance department budgets.
  • Drones will become commonplace in fire department response.
  • Wildland fires will be fought day and night.
  • Firefighters will be given even more COVID protocols, training and PPE.

Jim Spell retired as a captain with the Vail (Colorado) Fire & Emergency Services, and founded HAZPRO Consulting.

Robert Avsec: Focus on mental health

Are we starting to be satisfied with an awareness level of mental health when it comes to our firefighters? Awareness is good, but wouldn’t being literate be better? Awareness is knowing rudimentary knowledge about something – knowing the difference between an A-frame or a balloon-frame building construction. Literacy comes with understanding how fire attack on such structures will differ.

Treatment for diagnosed PTSD can be more costly in time, effort and patience than other mental health issues. Wouldn’t it be better to have firefighters who possessed mental health literacy so that they could identify that the symptoms that they are experiencing would not meet the criteria for PTSD?

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years.

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