‘What we did yesterday no longer works': Fire service leaders look ahead to 2024
FireRescue1’s newest board members share personal passions and insights about what’s to come in the new year
As the year draws to a close, it’s only natural to take stock of our successes, moments of pride and lessons learned. One moment of great pride for FireRescue1 was the expansion of our Editorial Advisory Board to help guide editorial priorities. This group of individuals joined an already impressive lineup of FireRescue1 friends, ambassadors and authors. Read all about the board here.
With such an extraordinary group of individuals joining the team, we wanted to ask them specifically about what they see ahead for 2024 – personal passions, trends to watch, challenges ahead, really anything they want fellow firefighters to consider for the new year.
Here’s what they had to say. (And we’ll be adding to this list over the next several weeks.)
Dena Ali: Battalion Chief, Raleigh (N.C.) Fire Department
“I am really excited for 2024. I have a book coming out, ‘Finding Light within the Darkness: A Guide to first responder mental wellness.’
For the fire service, I am excited about the direction the United States Fire Administration is taking with the relationships it has united among the IAFF, NFFF, Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research, IAFC, and others. For the first time, many of the most brilliant minds in the fire service are coming together to solve our most vexing problems.
For example, we have focused for many years on first responder mental health by addressing the calls and crisis resources. However, Dr. Sara Jahnke [another new FireRescue1 board member] recently brought up the danger of workplace incivility and how it is not an HR issue but rather a wellness issue. I am excited to see us move beyond the calls to ensure that our fire service remains a place we are proud of.”
Josh Waldo: Fire Chief, Bozeman (Mont.) Fire Department
“The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Report is an opportunity for the fire service to come together behind a common challenge that is facing all of us in the country. Wildfire is no longer just a problem for the Western United States as recent fires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee; Boulder, Colorado; and Lahaina, Hawaii, have shown us. The Commission Report gives us an opportunity to take a united and coordinator effort of the entire fire service to ensure that the recommendations for the report get the attention, support and funding that they need.
Additionally, the ongoing work of U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell and her vision of Fire Service One Voice continues to need our support and efforts. Having our entire fire service pulling in the same direction on several critical issues facing our profession is something that most of us have never seen in our careers, and we must capitalize on these efforts and continue to push these issues to the forefront collaboratively under Dr. Moore-Merrell’s leadership.
The fire service must continue to embrace, learn and understand technology, perhaps at a rate that is faster than we would normally be comfortable with. Whether we are talking about new technology that helps in our community risk reduction, operational programs, and training, or if we are talking about technology that is creating new challenges for us like lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicle, or the general use of artificial intelligence, the fire service has to stay current on these topics if we are going to be able to answer the challenges of tomorrow.”
Rocco Alvaro: Battalion Chief, Fairfax County (Va.) Fire & Rescue
What’s ahead in 2024:
- Recruitment/retention: A continued Herculean effort to market and brand the fire and emergency services to attract new talent and retain our current professionals. Evaluating current strategies considering competing occupations, compensation, staffing, professional development and career growth. Enhancing current high school and cadet programs to better align with a trade school philosophy that leads to job opportunities.
- Fiscal management: Working within a defined budget that adequately prioritizes mission-critical needs. The ongoing cost-benefit analysis that continually evaluates and plans for operational needs, strategic needs and fiscal sustainability. A continued effort to review data, establish a forward-looking framework that improves budgetary efficiencies, and seek additional opportunities for internal and external funding sources.
- Leadership: Continued professional development of our future emergency services leaders. A broad-based approach that incorporates training, experience and education as part of a larger succession management philosophy. We must overcome the hurdles that limit opportunities for informal and formal mentorship. The development and growth of our newest members must begin at the date of hire and continue through a career path that cultivates the willingness to learn all facets of the industry.
- System redesign: We must rethink how we define the mission of the fire and emergency service. The philosophy of “that is how we have always done it” no longer applies and lacks the creative spark that is needed to challenge our current and future leaders. We must look at emerging technologies, advanced data analytics, cross-sector collaboration, resource deployment, staffing models, geographical/jurisdictional boundaries, healthcare ecosystems, and community risk reduction work in an effort to prepare ourselves for an evolving mission. What we did yesterday no longer works, and what we are doing today needs to evolve.
- Vision: The fire service needs innovators and visionaries that can bring about shared solutions and prepare the industry for both known and unknown challenges. These individuals must be able to see what is over the horizon and anticipate the black swans that are waiting for us. They must also have the fortitude, resilience and grit to drag the fire service forward in anticipation of change. The functional ability to create an agile working environment and mindset will set the stage for continued creativity and foster a workspace that is focused on winning. These transformational leaders must envision a fire service that transcends our current limitations and strives to achieve a future-focused fire and emergency service. Yesterday is gone, today will end, and tomorrow carries the great unknown.”
Dr. Reginald Freeman: Chief Risk Officer, HAI Group
“2024 will be a pivotal year for the fire service. Our focus should remain on professional development for a much less tenured fire service than what we are accustomed to when compared to prior generations, coupled with succession planning, technology and AI integration. Lastly, embracing and establishing a holistic culture of equity and inclusion is paramount to future sustainable success.”
Darryl Jones: Fire Chief, City of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Fire Bureau
The fire service needs to continue its migration to an all-hazards service in 2024. With the continued decrease in building fires, which is a good thing, we need to recognize, identify and prepare for other risks and threats to our departments and our communities.
- Active shooter/active threat is a threat no matter the size or demographic of the community.
- Technological accidents are a threat.
- Electric vehicles using lithium-ion batteries parked in a garage are a threat.
- Lightweight, green, cheaper construction create new challenges.
The fire service must be ready to respond. If not us, who?
From the Executive Editor, Chief Marc Bashoor
In addition to the myriad issues that will likely come up, there are two things that I believe will dominate the fire service in 2024. We’re already knee-deep in one, while the other is swirling downward, right now at that proverbial 10,000-foot level.
- Electrification: We have focused on lithium-ion battery fires near daily of late. The proliferation of electrification will expand beyond these products and continue to saturate our communities. Damaged batteries are only part of the problem, however. Uncertified and third-party charging systems have been responsible for numerous fires.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): The AI world will have direct impacts on our research, response, community interactions, and educational opportunities. I foresee fire protection systems with AI connections, which will require fire departments to interact with AI as they show up for alarm bells calls or for investigations of odors. The possibilities are endless. The IAFC recently held a technology summit where AI was a featured topic of discussion. Keep your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you. AI will soon be a part of your fire department, whether you’re ready for it or not.
What do you consider to be the top priorities for the fire service in 2024? Email the editor.