By David Durstine
Vice President of Marketing Akron Brass Company
Recently at a trade association conference, I had the chance to listen to Jeff Johnson, CEO for the Western Fire Chiefs Association, past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and retired chief for Oregon’s Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue (TVF&R). He spoke about “Changing the Game,” which we know today as our business of serving our communities and saving lives. This has me thinking about what we do as an industry, often referred to as “100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress,” and what I even do as an individual in this industry both as a professional working for Akron Brass and as a volunteer firefighter in central Ohio. Many times we talk the talk, but now it is time to walk the walk!
During the past few years, we have seen fire service funding dwindle with cuts to grant dollars and reductions in local tax revenue. It seems like an everyday occurrence that you read an article detailing local government budget cuts, layoffs, and delayed capital expenditures. No one is immune from one perspective or another, but what is your department doing to counter this? How are you planning for the future? Simply saying, “We are going to do more with less,” just doesn’t cut it. Actions and planning must happen now if you want to make it through the next couple of years successfully. But, have you thought about science and technology or other creative methods of using your available funds or resources to actually change the game?
Johnson shared some of his personal experiences during this lecture to industry professionals. One I found particularly valuable for this article. During his time as chief with TVF&R, Johnson used historically run data to develop and use science-based analytics for planning effective customer service to the residents and transient daily commuters within the TVF&R community. This methodology provided good visibility, outlining areas within the district where call volume was more frequent. Some of the frequency was even tied to specific times of the day, such as when commuter traffic was at its peak on specific portions of a highway. This way of thinking and looking at historical data helped to make clear strategic decisions and appropriate planning for the future. By relocating firehouses to more appropriate locations, the department could now improve response times. In Johnson’s specific example, TVF&R staffed and staged additional apparatus at various locations along the freeways during peak commute hours of the day to handle the higher volume of accidents while reducing response times.
Staffing tends to be one of the largest costs associated with a department’s budget-rightly so, as our public safety professionals are some of the best in the world. However, this can be one of the hardest decision-making points when looked at by officers and local officials. Where do we make cuts? Will they actually benefit the department or will they create safety concerns? How will this affect the constituents in our community? These are all tough questions, but do they really need to be asked? Maybe we should be asking how can we better use our public safety personnel. Can we further cross train to benefit everyone? This is what a number of public safety departments are doing across the country.
A great example of this is the Village of Rosemont, Illinois, where the public safety staff is cross trained as firefighters, EMTs, and police officers. This is a very interesting way to look at your resources and truly enables cities and a department to pull and allocate resources accordingly as an emergency deems fit. Essentially, this would allow a public safety employee working as a police officer in a residential neighborhood to be an active first responder and begin to administer immediate medical treatment to a potential heart attack patient or assist an engine company by hitting a hydrant on a working structure fire before packing up and assisting with search and rescue. Similarly, an engine company could respond to assist a fellow public safety police officer on a domestic dispute. I do not believe this theory is perfect for every city or municipality, but it is definitely a different way to look at your resources.
Cell phones are another great resource to tap into. My 12-year-old neighbor has one, as does every member of my volunteer fire department. Are you using these phones to your department’s advantage? New smartphone apps such as Active 911 and texting capabilities are quickly making fire department pagers things of the past. Not only do they help free up valuable space on your belt, allowing you to carry one device for your mobile telecommunication needs, they can also dramatically improve your department’s communications and efficiency. Some programs allow you to notify other department members that you are responding and let you know the other members who are responding. There are still other applications that take it one step further, providing you with the cross streets while mapping the fastest route to the incident from your location. My personal experience has shown these programs and applications add value to our department. They also enable us to reduce the cost associated with purchasing and maintaining pagers for all department personnel.
Other new technology to hit the industry in recent years includes vehicle maintenance/monitoring systems that use wireless and WiFi technology to constantly send updates on the status of your apparatus to department officers and maintenance personnel. You might say this sounds like it is going to cost more money-and upfront it may. But in the long term, it will allow you to be more proactive with your apparatus’s maintenance programs. Instead of regularly scheduling preventive maintenance-whether needed or not-every couple of months, you can now service your apparatus when actually needed based on the monitoring system’s feedback of engine or pump service hours, as well as other critical system information. Systems like this can ultimately reduce your emergency vehicles’ out-of-service time, prevent unnecessary preventive maintenance, and reduce overall operating costs.
Adopting the Scientific Model
The Volusia County (FL) Department of Public Protection has adopted a modified scientific response model, where it places emergency vehicles into high-volume service areas of the county and doesn’t have the units assigned to permanent stations. The department changed the game one step further by adopting multifunctional apparatus-a trend that is increasing nationwide. In this case, the department combined the need for servicing its residents’ EMS and firefighting needs with an ambulance/pumper. Other departments around the country are following suit with multifunctional apparatus that combine other functions into a single apparatus such as rescue-pumpers and pumper-tankers. Although this is nothing new to the industry, many departments are looking to maximize their capabilities and services with the limited resources available.
What actions are you taking to make sure your department makes it through the next couple of years successfully? You can no longer assume the status quo will be sufficient. I encourage the entire industry to think outside the box and embrace new ideas as well as advances in science and technology. It is imperative that the United States fire service look for ways to “Change the Game.”
DAVID DURSTINE is vice president of marketing with the Akron Brass Company, grew up in the fire service, and worked in the industry for more than 12 years. He is a fourth-generation firefighter with the Apple Creek (OH) Volunteer Fire Department. He also serves as a board member for the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association (FAMA) and is a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, Committee.