What will the future hold for the fire service?

With the really big issues being addressed at next month's conference, add your thoughts to the mix

There are times it is really good to be me. The day an invitation to the Wingspread conference popped up in my email inbox was one of those times.

For those unfamiliar, Wingspread is a think-tank-like conference held once every 10 years that began in 1966. It gathers the best and brightest of the fire service to tackle the really big issues.

There are clearly more great fire service thinkers than there are seats at the table; I don't envy those who had to make the call on who's in and who's out.

We're still about five weeks away from the conference and the agenda has not been released. That's allowed my mind to wander and speculate on the big issues.

Granted, it's fairly easy to point to the big issues we face today and will likely face in the next year or two. Cancer, mental health, heart disease, recruiting and retaining, department funding, EMS frequent flyers, diversity, transitional fire attack and reducing line-of-duty deaths and injuries are sure to be with us in the coming years.

What's intriguing are the issues that haven't surfaced yet, but will be major concerns before the 2026 Wingspread takes place.

  • What new health risks will surface?
  • What forces will threaten fire department viability?
  • What will be the new leading cause of firefighter injury and death?
  • What will winning fire and health care prevention programs look like?

Also intriguing are the unintended consequences of our best efforts to fix existing problems.

For example, many argue that the huge improvement in home insulation — tighter fitting doors and windows — increases the likelihood of back draft during a fire.

Others say our improved turnout gear allows us to go deeper into fires for longer durations, thus increasing the risk of death and injury — but few will argue for a return to raincoats and hip waders.

And, the drastic reduction in the number of fires since the first Wingspread has limited many fire departments' real-fire experience, rendering them less effective when the tone drops.

In short, what unforeseen problems will the fixes we put in place today create for tomorrow?

There are two things we know for sure. First, we can't halt progress out of fear of unintended consequences. Second, educated or lucky guesses aside, nobody knows what the future holds.

It's impossible for me to shove all of FireRescue1's readers into my suitcase and smuggle you into Wingspread. However, I can do the next best thing by representing as many of your concerns while I'm there.

So think about what the big issues facing the fire service will be in the coming years and shoot me an email. I promise to read them and do my best to incorporate them into Wingspread. 

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