By Chris Mc Loone
I always enjoy putting together our December issue. Doing so gives me the chance to check in with industry suppliers and get an idea of where they feel their markets are headed in the coming year. Some might think, “Big deal. The tool manufacturers are optimistic. What’s that got to do with me?” The answer is actually quite a bit.
When the manufacturers are saying that municipal budgets are showing less constraint, that means it’s time for you to begin ensuring you get a piece of that pie. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant application period just opened, but it is time for us to stop relying on grant monies to accomplish what we need to do. If municipalities are starting to loosen the purse strings even a little bit, make sure you are the first in line to ensure your firefighters get new PPE, or that they get new apparatus that will stay out of the shop, or that they get SCBA that meets the most current edition of NFPA 1981.
You’re not going to know whether or not your municipality has the money to spend unless you ask. The whole country knows we have suffered long enough, but what our budget directors are going to want is proof.
Like it or not, today we live in a world that is driven by data. We look at statistics to predict where the world economy is headed, whether to buy an ambulance or a pumper, or to plan our own capital improvements on our homes. Usually data are available at the click of a mouse. But, one area where many departments still struggle is documenting their activities to use as criteria for capital purchases.
For example, my department is working to achieve national accreditation. This has been a sometimes arduous process, especially in the beginning when we were getting systems in place to collect data regarding our training, our responses, our records, and attendance levels. Data collection required some companies in the department to change certain processes within their own organizations-no easy feat when most of the companies in the department are more than 100 years old and have been using their own processes the entire time.
Although the department is still several months away from finding out if it is accredited, the data we have collected have already resulted in many benefits. For one thing, we now have a more formal “seat at the table” with our elected commissioners. A few tangible benefits have been realized. We received funding for an expanded training program, which includes capital expenditures; we have expanded our training facility with a larger multipurpose training building; we constructed a training/storage building for the various training props and training equipment we have accrued; and, most importantly, at least one public safety training academy will send instructors to our facility for Firefighter I classes.
Another example is a preventive maintenance reimbursement program. The data we have collected have been used as justification for this program, under which each company is reimbursed by the township for preventive maintenance performed on apparatus, equipment, and facilities.
Obviously, not every department will realize such benefits. Economic realities are what they are. However, through a proactive program, it is possible to more effectively place your department “on the map” of your municipality, thus securing the funding necessary for you to continue providing the services your community has come to expect. Being able to prove you are doing what you say you are doing has benefits that transcend just counting pennies. It is hard to argue with data.
We have struggled enough during the economic downturn. The time is now for you to get your “seat at the table” and demand the funding that is long overdue for your department. If you have been assembling data, get them organized and present them effectively. If you haven’t been, start. We don’t live in an era where simply saying, “NFPA 1901 recommends we move this 15-year-old pumper into reserve status. It’s 15 years old, so I need $450,000 for a new one,” makes it happen. The people signing the checks want to know how many miles, how often it was in the shop for repair, the average number of personnel riding the unit, how many pump hours, how many generator hours, and how many responses are associated with the rig. That only scratches the surface.
The bean counters are going to want to know how you run your organization. “Yeah, he’s a good guy. I like working for him,” isn’t going to get you the funds.
As we wrap up 2013, every department should be looking at its operations to figure out how to better gather and use the data readily available to all of us. If 2014 goes like many are predicting it will in this issue, you need to have a seat at that table.