AMU Emergency Management Opinion Original Public Safety

Integrating Community Risk Reduction into Public Service Agencies

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By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

In my previous article, I discussed community risk reduction (CRR) in its current form in most fire and EMS organizations. There are many barriers to this integration that need to be overcome if a fire-rescue organization will be able to truly embrace the conversion from response-centric to an all-hazards, all phases emergency services organization.

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Why Is Conversion to an All-Hazards, All Phases Organization Beneficial to a Community?

Fire prevention has long-lasting effects in the community. This is because fires and EMS calls have long-term consequences when they occur.

For instance, if a fire occurs in a large business employing a good portion of local citizens, many of those people will be out of work for an extended period of time. That mass unemployment affects smaller businesses in turn, such as supermarkets and restaurants, because unemployed or partially employed workers won’t spend as much money at these smaller businesses. This puts a drain on the local economy.

Also, many municipalities get funding from payroll and sales taxes. In the event of mass unemployment due to a building fire, both taxes suffer due to the loss or interruption of jobs and the subsequent loss of spending.

Depending on the severity of the fire, property taxes could also be lost if the affected company decides the fire was large enough to warrant a move to a new facility. Also, that organization may  not have a continuity of operations plan that allows the business to resume producing its normal products or services.

Changing Culture within Emergency Services Organizations Relies on Education

The first hurdle to overcome is to change an organization’s internal culture. As we have noted in many firefighter initiatives, this change occurs best through education.

By providing examples of communities that have suffered major losses and are now experiencing difficulties in the fire department, we can show how preventing losses in communities and emergency service organizations is in the best interest of everyone.

For instance, there is a community to the south of my department that once had three firehouses, due to a booming General Motors (GM) plant that was the large tax producer in the community. When the GM plant closed, the fire department was forced to consolidate to one fire station. While the GM plant did not catch fire, it shows how the removal of a large tax base in the community can significantly affect the local fire-rescue department.

The second hurdle is to focus on improving fire personnel safety through prevention and education efforts. Many of our firefighter deaths occur could have been avoided if a fire had been prevented from ever occurring.

Some firefighters would argue that we can only inspect commercial buildings and that many of our deaths occur in residential buildings. This is why our prevention efforts must include public education. Many of the residential fires that killed or injured firefighters were a result of a human action or inaction that started the fire, such as leaving burning candles or not paying attention to cooking stoves.

Integrating Responsibility and Ensuring Better Communication

There is a natural separation from the typical fire prevention bureau where some people work on a Monday through Friday schedule and other personnel who work on a shift schedule. This can be remedied in two ways.

The first way is to readjust the schedule of the fire prevention bureau commander to include the hours when the shift personnel have a briefing. This method ensures that proper communication occurs at least once a week; it also permits information exchanges to occur and the message of community risk reduction to be heard during the shift.

Providing brief trainings and follow-ups can also occur at this time. For instance, the labeling of fire department connections (FDCs) may be an issue during annual inspections, and the bureau commander can explain the requirements for accurate FDC labeling. Possibly the investigative results of the latest fire can be shared with the crews, and speakers could describe how a fire code or educational message could have prevented a fire.

Secondly, each officer should have some responsibility for CRR built into their daily jobs. Additionally, one or two stations could have bureau responsibilities, such as educational program development, inspection compliance checking, and the quality improvement/quality assurance of inspections. This strategy trains the next bureau commander inside the organization and ensures task and management balance for the bureau commander.

Many Departments Already Integrating Community Risk Reduction

While CRR integration is a newer management subject in the fire and rescue services, many people recognize that some of the integration has already occurred, but is not formalized. Most larger organizations already conduct company fire inspections, as this is the only possible way to conduct the volume of inspections that occur on an annual basis in most communities.

Similarly, many departments already utilize on-duty fire companies to deliver educational programs, such as programs delivered in local schools. Most departments have shift personnel who can start an initial investigation and assist the official fire investigator upon his or her arrival at the scene.

The areas in which we must increase cohesion is that of culture and management responsibility. This will ensure the best outcome for our communities.

Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.

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