Question: Staffing of our responding fire apparatus in the paid sector has been reduced over the years to a dangerously low level. What do you think are the main causes?
Answer: Well, I was never one to duck an issue; but you sure picked a doozy! Still, I will try to be basic and fair.
First is money. The public is tired of taxes rising every year. The people who get elected dont seem to have any imagination as to priorities, and the public is more aware of crime then they are of the fire department's services. (Until the World Trade Center attack, that is.) Couple that with the fact that 85 to 95 percent of the budget in all fire departments are earmarked for salaries and benefits to the members by contract. Now, with the public unaware of our services, it is easy to see that personnel budget cuts are apparently very effective in reducing budget gaps in a hurry in reaction to a reaction to a vote threat, at least to the public we serve and the elected leaders who think we work for them.
With that said, the secondary problem is that we have failed to market to the taxpayer what we do. We are at least 15 years behind the public safety service of police departments (just watch the newspapers and the completeness of the crime stories and the skimpy releases of fire activity). We have also failed to vitalize our services in any way that would give the public a picture our result-oriented behavior (at least until the World Trade Center attack).
The leadership of our services and those who are responsible for budget preparation and defense of it, our fire chiefs, are left to stand alone and unassisted and in fear of their jobs from administrations that created laws and legislation that have them serving at the pleasure of the __________, so that compromises to cut personnel are made with the thought that probably nothing will happen until I retire.
Professional marketing of the fire department staffing levels in our communities lies directly in that the public and elected and hired officials must understand just what happens at a structural fire. Staffing is not vital to any other service that a fire department has on their mission statement.
Furthermore, the fire service leadership seems to have forgotten how to make the fire building behave so that true and calculated risk, based on information that creates a size-up, can result in success in either keeping human beings alive or preventing fire spread within the structure or exposure to prevent the loss of dollars in taxes and employee benefits to those that would lose their homes or jobs.
The market that is never addressed and always forgotten is those tactical operations that are manpower-based and create a safe work environment for the firefighter truck work or extinguishment support functions. Once that is has been remembered, it has to be marketed in a couple of languages and certainly the two or three that are spoken in the media and government gatherings. In short, make the public understand what every firefighter does and, more important, the result of not having that person show up!
Only my opinion however.