Essential services and devolution planning for fire and EMS

The ability to maintain essential services during periods when resources are not able to meet the needs of the community, whether during a short-term or long-term incident, is critical to maintain the health and safety of the community. Fire and emergency medical services (EMS) leadership should develop plans for determining essential minimal levels of service for their community and develop plans for providing service during periods when resource availability is misaligned with community need. This process is known as devolution planning.

Devolution planning identifies and continues essential functions, maintains continuity of emergency services delivery, determines the likely impacts of service delivery changes, and provides a template for reintegrating services back into the organization.

Devolution planning steps

Step 1: Create a working group.

Devolution planning begins by creating a working group composed of members of the department, other government departments and community stakeholders. This group should examine the legal requirements mandated of the organization and the degree to which these service levels must be provided.

For example, a fire/EMS organization’s enabling legislation may require the delivery of EMS care, but the legislation may not describe whether that level of care is provided at the Basic Life Support or Advanced Life Support levels.

Step 2: Identify services outside of the legal minimum.

The next step is to identify every service that is provided which falls outside of the legal minimum and examine the impact or return on investment each service provides. At the same time, community expectations need to be identified and compared against expected levels of service.

For example, community risk reduction activities have a high rate of return on investment by reducing the rate of fires and injuries in the community and the rate of injury to emergency responders, so inspections may continue, but large fire prevention events may be virtual.

Step 3: Develop a new concept of operations.

It is important to balance organizational activities against community expectation, such as improved health and safety, to ensure that the devolution plan is aligned with the community. From these inputs, the team develops a new concept of operations.

This may include eliminating services, altering who delivers services, changing response models and benchmarks, or shifting delivery models, including increasing risk reduction activities while reducing the resources devoted to emergency response. If the service delivery model is altered, legislative action may need to be taken.

Step 4: Identify when and how services will be altered.

Trigger points should be identified to indicate when and how department services will be altered. The plan should identify triggers for reconstituting services and how the services will be phased into operation.

Step 5: Create an improvement plan.

Whenever an event triggers the devolution of services, the organization should examine the incident and develop an After-Action Report and Improvement Plan to ensure that future incidents build on the lessons learned.

Step 6: Develop a reconstitution plan.

Finally, if the organization desires to return to the original delivery model in the future, develop a reconstitution plan to outline the path back to the previous state of operations.

Related issues to address

In addition to the development of the devolution plan, the working group should address related issues as supporting documents. These include:

  • Budget implications.
  • Acquisition processes.
  • Impact of devolution on the community and the organization.
  • Human resources and organizational culture impacts.
  • Records management needs.