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Chief Contemplations

By Richard Marinucci

Web articles are new to me. I was asked by Editor Chris Mc Loone if I would like to give it a try. Since it is probably a good idea every once in a while to try something new, I agreed. I also was given a little free reign, and the last instruction I received was to have some fun. With that said, I thought I would try a slightly different format for this month. Instead of focusing on a specific topic I will offer some random thoughts that will hopefully provoke some thought.

What Does More with Less Really Mean?
One thing that bothers me more and more every time I hear it is when people suggest I do more with less. Are they insinuating that I have been slacking and wasting time up to this point? I would like to think that, as part of my job, I am supposed to continually look for more efficiencies and effectiveness. Doing more with less is just code-speak for, “We are reducing your budget, so do the best you can. Hopefully you can create an illusion that your service level has not been reduced and, better yet, improved. Whatever you do, don’t tell the public that you can’t deliver the same level of service.”

On Politics
Politics has nothing to do with logic or common sense. Too often we think that presenting a sound case for something will convince others.

Apparatus Today
Today’s apparatus are greatly improved over the ones used in the “good old days.” They are more reliable, do more things, and are easier to operate. Just think, we can take a 20-something year old firefighter who has driven nothing bigger than a subcompact their whole driving life and have him ready to go with relatively minimal training.

On Technology
Technology offers great opportunity for improvement in efficiency and effectiveness but does not replace the need for proper, repetitive, and meaningful training.

Nothing Wrong with EMS Calls
Why do firefighters sound almost apologetic when they say that 60 to 80percent of their emergency responses are for EMS calls? Is there something wrong with helping people in their times of need? It doesn’t detract from the fine work done responding to fires; it offers even more quality service to the community that makes a difference.

Offensive/Defensive
Should we consider changing the offensive/defensive terminology used on the fireground? I know that word should not make a difference in this case, but I can’t help but think of the negative connotation to firefighters when they hear that an operation is going to be defensive. To firefighters, it is like admitting defeat and not giving them the chance to be aggressive. Ask any firefighter what he thinks when he hears over the radio that the operation will be defensive. I bet you won’t get too many warm, fuzzy feelings!

Safety and Training
A lot has been said and written about firefighter safety. But, doesn’t it all boil down to the firefighter’s preparation, i.e. training? If a firefighter knows the floor is collapsed or will collapse once he enters the building or that the roof will fall causing certain death, would he still enter the building? That would be suicidal, not brave. When firefighters enter the building, they believe they will make it out. They need the tools and training to recognize when they have a loser. This is not to discount unusual circumstances. It is more about the need to really know the risks and the reality of the structure.

Medical Nomenclature
Does anyone outside the emergency service know the difference between a medical first responder, EMT, and paramedic? Does the public only see a rescuer? The fire service and others need to do a better job of explaining the difference.

Cheaper Is Not Better
I have learned that you can always do something cheaper, but that doesn’t mean better. Unfortunately there are too many politicians that think cheaper is better. They never let quality enter the discussion so they don’t get confused!

The above is but a quick view of some issues. I recognize that there is often more to the story and few things are ever explained so quickly. The point here is to generate thought and debate. We need to ask questions so as to not always accept the status quo. We also need to step back from time to time to make sure we are headed in the right direction.

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RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.