Friday, March 13, 2009

Value Added Service?

I sit here saddened as I look around at the local and national fire and rescue budget landscape and see that many of my public education peers have their positions up on the budget chopping block. Yes, times are very tough and unprecedented in many ways. Sadly, one fire service tradition remains: cut prevention programs.

So much for the Everyone Goes Home Initiative #14: Provide public education more resources & champion it as a critical fire & life safety program.

This issue is about value, or lack thereof, and the perceived value of preventing fires and injuries to both the general public and within each fire department. Why do citizens generally stand up and yell when budget issues have departments talking fire station closures or staffing reductions? Because they perceive that having plenty of fire fighters and fire stations is a value added service and in many case communities have voted for, in effect, tax increases to keep levels where they perceive they need to be.

Not too many folks perceive the value of preventing the fire instead of having to respond to it – especially within our own fire service family. Do not get me wrong, as a former line fire fighter, I am all for four person minimum staffing and keeping crews safe.

I just find it a shame that fire fighters and citizens alike will march on City Hall and provide over flow crowds at Council meetings when closing stations or cutting line positions are the cause. It has struck me that I have never seen the same scene when fire and injury prevention programs and positions are on the chopping block.

Why? Because the vast majority of the fire service still views fire and injury prevention as a very low priority and not really a part of the mission. The public listens to what our fire officials and fire fighters are saying and none too often do you hear any of them preaching the importance of these programs and the people who run them. Of course, many of us in the prevention field probably have to shoulder some of the blame for not tooting our own horns!

Until prevention is truly ingrained as a critical component in the overall fire service mission, the history of cutting prevention programs will continue to repeat itself.
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