For the past two months, I have written about the Wingspread VI report that was released early this year. Why the emphasis on this report? It is the one report that looks at our service with a critical eye.
It identifies the threats and opportunities and offers action plans to move forward. Without an honest assessment of our state and a roadmap to move forward, the industry will dwindle – YES, dwindle. Our history and current news articles underline this thought. Staffing and funding are nowhere near the levels needed to professionally provide service to our customers. We must reverse the trend and become a thriving service. Granted, there are pockets within the country where the industry is thriving, but overall it is dwindling.
This is the sixth Wingspread Report, a once-in-a-decade report, to be issued since 1966. The report was developed by 40 people representing a diverse section of the U.S. fire service. The group met in Racine, Wisconsin, at the Johnson Foundation Conference Center last July and came up with 14 “Statements of National Significance to the United States Fire and Emergency Services.” The statements are, in effect, an overview of the threats and opportunities facing fire and emergency services.
In this column, I will highlight a few more of the statements that relate directly to firefighter health, safety, and equipment. Of the 14 statements, at least half of them are directly related. The other half have an indirect influence.
This statement reads, “The United States fire and emergency services must develop an efficient and effective process to collect and manage data.” Capturing and managing data are not in the mindset of most firefighters. We do not mind responding to incidents (the more, the merrier) to assist our communities. However, when it comes to documenting our activities, the “pencil whip” mentality kicks in. No one enjoys the paperwork or data entry part of our profession. Who is this impacting? Us. It has been said that the side with the most (and best data) wins. When we take our case to the body politic for more funds, more equipment, and more training, we often fail to have the data to adequately substantiate our requests. I recently learned that a major metro department’s data showed the city had a disproportionate number of cooking fires. A close examination determined the numbers were skewed because checking the nature of the fire as a cooking fire eliminated the need to fill out most of the rest of the report. Data matter. Accurate data matter more.
This statement reads, “Automatic fire sprinkler use has the ability to solve much of America’s fire problem in every class of occupancy. In addition to automatic fire sprinkler technology, the United States fire and emergency services must embrace all forms of technology where it is efficient, effective, and provides information that adds to organizational and community safety.” There is nothing new in this statement about sprinklers. Almost every organization has a mindset that it exists to mitigate emergencies, especially fire suppression. However, the mission also includes fire prevention. We stress quick response, as we should. However, a sprinkler head is like having a firefighter on the scene with a charged hoseline as soon as the fire breaks out. That is true customer service.
Other technologies are emerging faster than ever. Fire and emergency services must embrace and manage them. Doing so is the sign of an advanced profession that does not go unnoticed by our stakeholders. The technology advancement role in organizations is a great opportunity to engage younger, less experienced members to assist management (command staff) in their decisions.
This statement reads, “The United States fire and emergency services must have an awareness of and use the data from ‘smart’ technology (e.g., smart buildings, smart city, smart vehicle, and homeland-security-related), which can provide real-time access to pertinent information.” Smart technology is here and growing as fast as any technology in history. For example, my wife and I will be driving to a destination and she will have an app (Waze) on her phone. Not only does it provide navigation and maps, but it advises of accidents ahead, upcoming road congestion, disabled vehicles on the roadside, and other real-time data that might impact our travel. This is an example of real-time information that is being installed in buildings, vehicles, and eventually firefighter personal protective equipment. Organizations should be knowledgeable and have the ability to access this information. As with other emerging technology, this is an area where younger, less experienced members can assist management with the learning curve.
“The United States fire and emergency services must proactively drive the research agenda and equipment design to effectively provide services based on community needs.” Often research universities will get funding to research fire service issues, and they do so in a vacuum. Science-based research is core to the changes we must make to remain respected in the community. We must make sure their research has relevance and is guided by the emergency services. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation is to be commended for its “National Fire Service Research Agenda” Symposia held approximately every five years. The symposia determine needs based on a cross section of the fire service and sort the needs by priority levels. Also, the National Fire Protection Research Foundation is to be commended for always having a “project technical panel” to advise all its research.
I hope the past three columns have added value to the Wingspread VI report and stress the importance of looking at our service from the 30,000-foot level. It is anticipated that the next Wingspread Report will be in five years, rather than 10 years, as it has been since 1966.
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).