Questions for Discussion

By Richard Marinucci


In today’s world, we often see superficial explanations and little depth. We look at problems and seek simple solutions. We explain away serious matters with controlled “spin.” To look at itanother way, I have listened to my good friend Gordon Graham discuss risk management. One of his basic concepts is that we too often look at the proximate cause of a disaster and fail to find and correct the root causes. As such, we continue to get what “we always got.” So, the basic question for discussion is: Why don’t we look deeper into issues to see what we should be doing to find fixes that last more long-term?

Here is an example. I recently read a press release (which was pickup and ran in local newspapers) that touted a reduction in a community’s ISO rating. On the surface, everything looks great and congratulations are certainly in order. But, I wonder if anyone looks into more detail so see some of the history. I happen to know that the organization that showed great improvement actually has lost approximately 15 percent of its staffing in the past 10 years or so. So, my questions for discussion would be: How did a community improve its ISO rating with such a loss of staffing? Was the organization overstaffed? Is there a disconnect between staffing levels and the ISO schedule? Please do not interpret this to mean I don’t think the department did a good thing. On the contrary, I compliment them as they are working for the best interest of their citizens and figured out how to address previous deficiencies in their rating. My concern here is that those who control the resources and make budgetary recommendations will look into this and determine that staffing is only a small portion of the ability of a community to address its fire protection (from an insurance perspective). What do you think?

Whenever there is a significant fire with loss of life, serious injuries or large dollar loss the fire service looks for the origin and cause of the fire. They try to determine whether or not it was intentional or accidental. They make a reasonable guess as to the actual cause as to electrical, cooking, etc. They may even comment on the presence of operating smoke alarms or the lack of sprinklers. What we seldom see is a deeper look to see if there were other contributing causes. How was the staffing on the response? How long did it take to assemble the right number of resources and how long did it take to deploy hoses and other parts of the tactics? We generally report our response time and even that does not take into account the entire response timeline. In order to make a difference the right resources need to arrive in the time that matters. If not, more damage occurs.

A total analysis would reveal deficiencies that should be addressed (or at least discussed to determine if anything could be done to improve the response.) Were prevention activities lacking? Would an inspection made a difference? Would public safety education helped minimize the damage? Too often we don’t ask these questions. Why? Wouldn’t it help the overall cause to know that better staffing would most likely have made a difference? Wouldn’t performance improve with better training? Wouldn’t it be advantageous to let policy makers know that they have “under resourced” the department and there are limits to what can be done? Just asking to start the discussion. When someone makes the comment that nothing could have been done and that there is nothing that would have changed the result, aren’t they admitting defeat. If you won’t do anything different the next time, the results will be predictable. Are you okay with that?

Part of any post-incident review should be to look at ways to do better. This may include better staffing, better training, better prevention efforts, and anything else that would contribute to a better outcome. If you burn a building completely to the ground and say there was nothing you could have done, maybe you shouldn’t respond the next time! After all, you aren’t going to make a difference. It is time to discuss and debate. Look towards continual improvement through a critical review of your capabilities based upon actual performance.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and 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 and Fire Engineeringeditorial 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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