4 big-impact fire-service changes to expect

The only thing certain about the future is that it hold change; here are four big changes I expect to see in the fire service's future

One of the most intelligent men I've had the privilege to work with is retired Gen. Michael Hayden. Gen. Hayden and I were commissioned in the U.S. Air Force at the same time and worked together at our first duty station deep in the vaults of the Strategic Air Command Headquarters near Omaha, Neb.

While our areas of expertise were different, we frequently found ourselves as partners at the same briefing sessions for senior military and civilian leaders. Hayden rose through the ranks and came to national prominence while serving as both the director of the National Security Agency and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Since retiring from the military, he became a principal at the Chertoff Group, a Washington based think tank, and elected to the board of directors of Motorola Solutions. His opinions are frequently sought on such news shows as "Meet the Press", "Fox News Sunday" and "60 Minutes." In essence, when Hayden speaks, people listen.

Recently the John Hopkins University asked him to speak at their Rethinking Seminar on security constructs, threats and potential response. Briefly, Mike spoke on four future tectonics, or groundbreaking, game changers.

While the tectonics discussed at John Hopkins may not directly affect the fire service, his presentation started me to think what groundbreaking game changers may be in store for the fire service in the near future.

You may disagree with the four subjects that I've chosen: research, technology, funding and regionalization. The real purpose is to have you think about how factors we see on the peripheral today may have a huge impact on the fire service tomorrow.

We've recently seen the positive impact that the research on ventilation control completed by the NFPA, NIST, UL, and USFA has had on our transitional strategy and tactics when approaching an offensive fire.

This success, along with fire dynamic modeling, will spawn future research in the area of fire operations resulting in a safer fireground for both firefighters and the general public.

In addition, the ongoing work being done by Vision 2020 in community risk reduction should help us prepare for our worst-case scenarios while improving our standard response to our most frequent emergencies.

Likewise, the introduction of community paramedicine should offer us opportunities to not only meet and better serve our public, but also to educate those same families in the importance of fire and life safety in their own home.

The ever-increasing body of knowledge at our fingertips will continue. Soon there will be the integration of GPS, GIS, CCTV, and real-time satellite video to allow responding fire and EMS units to see a virtual 360-degree view of the occupancy prior to their arrival.  

While the cost of most mobile data computers are priced in accordance with military specifications, the fire service will begin to more frequently turn to standard computer hardware and software that can be upgraded or replaced more frequently to meet our changing needs.

Mobile data links available for a monthly fee in some new cars could be adapted as well to emergency apparatus for far less than a stand-alone system would cost to build, install and maintain.

Equally important, fire and EMS will become even more data driven. When looking to replace an apparatus or essential equipment such as SCBA, can any of us say with certainty how many times in its life span has it been placed into service — not just actual emergencies, but how often has it been used in training or demonstrations?

Solid data will drive our funding and deployment in the future, and it needs to start with proper input, not just on emergencies, but on every routine training, community program and emergency incident conducted by fire service personnel.

It is said that fire is a local problem with a local solution, yet the cost of everything associated with fire and EMS response has grown at a rate far exceeding that of inflation or the cost of living index.

While most of this added cost in fire or EMS apparatus and PPE have been attributed to increased safety features, the bottom line is that in six years the cost of both have incrementally risen by 50 percent, putting replacement of most of this equipment out of reach of some departments.

Look to a more regional approach for collaborative sharing of resources and fire and EMS funding in the future.

When funding options are limited, many individuals turn to regionalization of services. I know many will bristle at this thought, and the traditionalist in me would agree.

But the reality is the extended economic downturn and the lack of enthusiasm for increased taxes will continue and drive regionalization, probably on a county level, as a way to avoid costly redundancy, especially in apparatus purchases.

In saying this, I still strongly believe in the local community fire station with a town's, city's or township's name on the side of a truck. It may be that the station, firefighters and trucks will be a part of larger integrated regional or county entity that operates under a larger strategic master plan and draws its revenue from a larger economically diverse area.  

For example, when I was Ohio's fire marshal, I superintended 1,280 separate fire departments using over 45,000 firefighters. Keeping statistics and records for each entity was a huge issue when it came to data on such simple items as cause and origin of fires, or training and recertification records.

By comparison, if those records were kept more centrally, perhaps by a central authority within each of Ohio's 88 counties, the consistency of data input for retrieval would improve.

My thoughts are meant for each of you to look at the future with a different perspective. We can control some factors in our operations quite well, but others are subject to the outside pressures of the community and world in which we live.

We must equally prepare for both to ride the crest of the wave for change in the future.

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