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Fire Prevention is now Risk Reduction

On Firefighter Netcast last week, we were privileged to listen in to an informal back-and-forth discussion between five nationally-recognized Fire Chiefs and State Fire Marshal’s on Chief Billy Hayes’ premiere show, “Stop, Drop, and Roll With the Punches.”

If you haven’t heard this fascinating program, please take the time to check it out here.

The guests spoke of the new role that faces us as promoters of fire prevention, that being “risk reduction” on a community level.  The fire service finds itself beyond reacting and responding, evolving into the star of the “risk reduction” role in our communities.

That doesn’t mean say good-bye to stop, drop, and roll, or the importance of Exit Drills in the Home (my department’s Sparky costume will still need to be laundered on a more frequent basis). Kids will always need to learn safety, and we will always be there for them.

But now administrators are forced to find more and more to cut. Savvy leaders are looking at adopting a strategy of risk reduction as an investment that could potentially produce huge returns down the road.

My good friend and fire service leader, Chris Naum, posted an article on The Company Officer yesterday on this very subject as well:

“Fire departments will need to shift from traditional emergency responses services and transition into a combination of emergency responses services with a primary focus on being a community reduction team focusing on public safety in a multidimensional approach of safe buildings through code enforcement, building requirements, environmental impact, community safety, responder safety, community health and wellness and community risk reduction through research and education. We will become the mother ship that guides critical thinking in all aspects of safety throughout our community:

An ounce of prevention is worth a boat load of money

We know that a little money now will save us big money later.  If you buy into this principle, then you‘re at the starting gate.  Now how do make it happen in your community while the winds are not right for increased revenues on any level?

We need to become effective communicators with our constituents.  We need to be able to build and foster relationships with city hall that will make them eager students when we educate them on the possibilities of “risk reduction.”  We’ll need to become masters of salesmanship and teachers of the year.

One of the guests on the Netcast, Chief Dennis Rubin, has worn the hats of both fire chief and city administrator.  It is from from that unique experience which he urges fire chiefs to meet more frequently with city managers and to “be frank and be direct.”  We’ll need to be up front and provide honest assessments that city council can work with.

And for us to do that, we’ll need to provide accurate and comprehensive data. Unfortunately, many of us have little or no data to use as our proof of need.  It’s the cops, flush with all kinds of charts, graphs, and percentages can clearly quantify their successes, and thus, are winning the battle for the funding!

This is exactly why we in the fire service will have to become masters of salesmanship.  We have to concentrate on fostering the  necessary relationships with our public and elected officials to convince them that such an investment in risk reduction will pay off handsomely.

Let’s take back some of the loot going to the cops!


Chief Rubin points us to CitiStat, a data-driven management approach which originated in Baltimore and utilizes real-time performance information to improve resource allocation and deployment decisions, develops more effective operational practices, provides relentless follow up and assessment, and ensures accountability throughout government. The program was a 2004 Innovations in American Government Award winner, and has been adopted by numerous agencies throughout the nation and internationally as well..

Is CitiStat something that fits into your management process?  Back in 2007, as his research project for the National Fire Academy’s Executive Officer Program, Fire Chief Gregory Bulanow of the North Charleston (SC) Fire Department focused on determining the efficacy of CitiStat for his department.  His research paper is available online and is a great place to start your foray into using this tool in your agency..

If CitiStat does not fit your local needs, at least it demonstrates how it is possible to share real-time data to track our successes and failures, in a way to get our agencies to work together in an efficient, cohesive way.  Perhaps applying just some of CitiStat’s principles to your management team can make the difference between having true data to rely upon, or punt and hope you get it close.  Just by meeting with your department heads and administration every couple of weeks, you’ll experience a shared resolve, incredible communication, accountability, and the growth of a healthy working relationship vital for our continued success.

Is that what both you and your city manager might want?

Another Huge Transition

I believe we find ourselves in the midst of another huge transition in the fire service.  The time is now to plan how you can successfully navigate your way through this change and emerge on the other side with a healthy and efficient organization that continues to provide the high level of service demanded by our communities.

Sometimes change is good.  But change is also inevitable.

Are you prepared for it?

1 Comment

  • Fiftyblue says:

    Please,oh please,stop the community-safety-prevention jargon. What is “community reduction?” this movement in fire service to be all thing to all people is diluting our focus and creating agencies that do dozens of things adequately , but fail to operate effectively on the fireground.
    This not say we are not capable of handling public safety initiatives, but, to me, the above seems excessive.
    There is obviously no umbrella operational guideline for all fire departments departments, and often a department is defined by the needs of the community it serves, but the idea that number crunching computer programs will provide answers is laughable.
    This “Citistat” program sounds remarkably similar to the Compstat program started by Jack Maple and used by the NYPD. Ask any NYC cop what they think of that program, or better yet any senior supervisor. They are likely to tell you it started out as a valuable resource that has grown to be a hindrance and a burden.
    That doesn’t even address the
    fact that crime statistics are much more variable and telling then fire department stats, which, excluding ISO-type operational parameters, are for the most part limited to response type and time.
    Train your firefighters for the scenarios that can kill them, make them and keep them competent in firefighting operations. When those objectives are satisfied, then expand scope to include safety needs of your community.
    No homeowner want to hear ” Sorry we turned your house into a swimming pool, but we have some really neat computer programs, and hey, drop by the firehouse during fire prevention month and the kids can play in the bounce house…”

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John Mitchell

Firefighter/Paramedic and a Lieutenant in suburban Chicago

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