Chief's Corner

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Where We Have Been and Where We Are Today

Posted on December 1, 2011 by Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines

The Fire Service has always been among the most admired members of our society ever since Ben Franklin set the service in motion after a huge fire in Philadelphia in 1736. He created a fire brigade called the Union Fire Company with 30 volunteers.

Some famous Americans who served as volunteer firefighters were: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Benedict Arnold, James Buchanan, and Millard Fillmore, to name just a few. Accordingly, the Fire Service is held in very high regard by our citizens and community leaders.

“In the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001 and in the recent economic downturn, the fire service faces pressures that could not have been imagined in years past. ”

However, in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001 and in the recent economic downturn, the fire service faces pressures that could not have been imagined in years past. The often heard statement, "well, the fire chief said he needs it, so we better provide it for him" just doesn’t work today. In today’s environment, what we do, what we are comfortable doing, and everything we say we need is questioned by community and governmental leaders, budget staff, and the citizens we serve.

Yet, our citizens depend on the Fire Service every day when their lives or property are in peril from fire, accidents, life threatening health conditions, or major disasters. Therefore, we must remain on the front line and continue to perform at maximum efficiency during these critical times. We cannot afford to fail. We know that citizens have no one else to turn to in these circumstances. "Please hurry my house is on fire" is a call that no other local, state, or Federal agency can answer—at least not in the way we do.

I am reminded of the grandfather who provided sound advice to his granddaughter; it goes something like this. "Listen, if you are ever lost or in need of help in a strange place; go to a firehouse. The firefighters well help you." We cannot allow that respect, that confidence, that trust to ever erode. It is our responsibility to protect our good standing. We do indeed stand on the shoulders of the giants of our calling. Our business address is located in our customer’s neighborhood. We enjoy the opportunity to serve as a part of the fabric of the community and to garner support from our neighbors.

The American Fire Service must enhance our efforts as advocates for life, health, and fire prevention and mitigation with public outreach and code enforcement every day. It is right to sell the value of preventing tragedies that may befall families. It is the purest demonstration that we care as firefighters for us to provide simple solutions for ensuring health and safety. It is, in fact, good business to demonstrate a proactive approach to fire and life safety.

Local fire and EMS personnel are always among the first to respond to events and the last to leave. Sometimes, they are even asked to perform during a period when they and their families are also victims of the disaster. Few professions, other than our brothers and sisters in law enforcement, offer this unique line of business and performance standard.

We are, in fact, critical infrastructure. But under these economic times, the Fire Service will be asked to operate with reduced resources while maintaining the same high level of service. We should never allow ourselves to believe that citizens will expect less from us because we have declining resources. It is up to us as firefighters to find ways to ensure our safety and the safety of our citizens now and into the future.

There is an old axiom that seems especially appropriate for today’s business and public service leaders, "Ask for what you need, but do the best with what you have." I would add that we must identify, quantify, justify, and communicate the true impact of reducing emergency services, both human and material resources, so that leaders can make informed decisions based on sound data.

Opportunities such as regionalizing specialty services rather than replicating them in each community may provide opportunities to lower expenses. We must do more critical thinking. We must work more efficiently and demonstrate that we are indeed partners in seeking opportunities to reduce the cost of public sector services while maintaining a high degree of care and service.

So I encourage you to continue to:

Thank you for challenging yourselves to be more attentive to your responsibilities to protect your citizens and your personnel. The USFA stands ready to support you and your organization.

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