Chief Concerns: Prognosticating

BY RICHARD MARINUCCI

Richard Marinucci
The December issue offers an opportunity to look to the future to see what awaits those in the fire service. First, I am sure most will say good riddance to 2020 and hope for a much better 2021. Looking ahead to the next year is never easy, but it is even more challenging because of the events of 2020.

Certainly, no one at the end of 2019 could have predicted all the events of 2020 with the exception of the presidential election. And even with that, I am not sure everyone would have selected Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate.

ELECTED OFFICES

Speaking of the presidential election, this is being written before election day. As such, I do not know the winner. But, I do know that there are big differences in the candidates. Those in the fire service will need to work with the eventual winner and figure out how to gain influence and access. This is not easy as the fire service, other than during disasters, is not part of the discussion. Except for the wildland fires out west, firefighters are rarely in the discussion. More effort will be made in 2021 to become a bigger part of the discussion regarding first response and the vital role of the fire service in the quality of life in communities. The ultimate winner of the presidency will give clues as to the approach to take.

Along with the presidential election, there are many more offices to be filled—locally, statewide, and nationally. The prediction is that there will not be a huge shift in the parties controlling the various branches, but as new people are elected, there can be an expectation that there will be changes. It is imperative for the fire service to establish (or reestablish) relationships, as that is the best tactic to exert influence and gain support. This is especially true locally but much more challenging nationally.

COVID-19 EFFECT

The effects of COVID-19 will remain into 2021. At the time of this writing, there is no definitive end to this pandemic and there is uncertainty regarding what it will take to return to business that is more like pre-Corona. The development of vaccines and therapeutics seems to be the only long-term recovery plan. But, there remain many variables, including the number of people willing to take the vaccine and the effectiveness of therapeutics. And, it goes without saying that the above-mentioned election will play a huge role in the progress that is made.

The lessons learned from COVID-19 will help improve the fire service. They will lead to better planning for future catastrophic events such as these and also improve interagency cooperation. They will continue the push for the fire service to improve members’ safety to work toward risk reduction or elimination for emerging threats to the health and well-being of the fire service. Another lesson learned is the ability to meet and train remotely. This is not to imply that this is the ultimate solution. It only means that the fire service has gained another tool that can be used to meet when face-to-face is not possible or affordable. It will also allow more remote training that keeps units in service in their first alarm districts more often. There are some topics that do not require in-person attendance, and this will be helpful.

IN-PERSON EVENTS

Departments and individuals will return to meetings, trainings, workshops, seminars, and conferences. This will not occur early in the year but, as time goes by, more people will return to more traditional methods of training, understanding how valuable they are after missing a year of no options. This will vary from organization to organization, depending on funding availability. Conferences like FDIC International will come back strong because of pent-up demand for this valuable training. As the attendance returns, all the ancillary aspects will also return. There has been a realization that “virtual” does not work for everything, and only through in-person interactions can many topics be delivered.

FUNDING AND PURCHASES

Funding will be an issue for many departments. Of course, when has it not been for most? The loss of revenue because of business loss and the associated taxes will impact fire departments. This will vary based on the source of income for the organizations. The results of the presidential election will also come into play. This is because there will be some federal help. The amount will be established by the party in power. There is also consideration based on the source of funding. Some departments rely mostly on property taxes. As long as property values hold, their situation should remain stable. But, the wild card is always the political party in charge. I have seen cases where cuts were made even though they weren’t needed as it was an opportunity to gain political favor by cutting taxes without getting blamed for reducing public safety. “Never let a crisis go to waste!”

During the pandemic, many industries have been restricted in developing and selling products, particularly new and changed items. Since there were no trade shows (major and otherwise), manufacturers have had minimal ways to introduce new and different products. Once the restrictions are lifted, you can expect to see what has been developed in the past year and, for those with money, can have a chance to acquire the latest and greatest. I believe this will apply to apparatus, equipment, and other hardware. The sooner there is a return to prepandemic norms, the faster we can expect to see this development.

PROTESTS

The other big issue of 2020 has been the civil unrest. The by-product of this has been increased awareness of needing to improve diversity and related aspects. This will lead to more scrutiny of hiring and promotional practices, especially in areas that have not had previous experiences regarding this. Previously, some organizations have escaped oversight and external supervision. This will change, and departments need to be more proactive in addressing any discriminatory practices. There will also be more of a push to improve training and education covering diversity issues. In some cases, this may be mandated. Plan on doing more in this area. It will be good for the overall growth and development of your organization, and those that are proactive will do better.

The events of 2020 will certainly shape the new year. The presidential election results, COVID-19 progress, and civil unrest change the way business is done and create a “new” normal. Also remember that there are other political races that will influence local services. Pay attention and work with whoever is in office. Funding will be an issue for many. Be flexible and creative. Planning can help create your future and minimize any negative outcomes. Have a strategy to emerge from the challenges of 2020 and look forward to a brighter 2021.


RICHARD MARINUCCIis the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and chief of the White Lake 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 Equipmentand Fire Engineering 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.

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