The NFPA recently released a fire service needs assessment; the third iteration following previous assessments conducted in 2001 and 2005. The goal was to look for gaps in fire service needs and to evaluate how the AFG program is helping to fill the needs of departments. There were some interesting results.
• 46% of fire departments have not formally trained all their personnel in structural firefighting. This is down from 55% in 2001 and 53 % in 2005.
• 70% of departments have no program to maintain firefighter health and fitness, down from 80% in 2001 and 76% in 2005.
• 46% of fire department engines were 15 or more years old, down from 51% in 2001 and 50% in 2005.
Some of the conclusions included:
• Needs have declined considerably in areas such as personal protective and firefighting equipment, two types of resources that received the largest shares of funding from the AFG programs.
• Declines in needs have been more modest in some other important areas, such as training, which have received much smaller shares of AFG funds.
• Fire prevention and code enforcement needs have shown no clear improvement over the past decade.
• There has been little change in the ability of departments, using only local resources, to handle certain types of unusually challenging incidents, including two types of homeland security scenarios (structural collapse and chem/bio agent attack) and two types of large-scale emergency responses (a wildland/urban interface fire and a developing major flood).
The AFG program has attempted to supplement local resources and fill gaps across a wide spectrum of needs. While there is no argument that there has been positive movement, even a generous assessment of these results and conclusions would be that the successes have been modest. Based on this, I’m wondering if it might be time to try something different.
It is no secret that federal resources are under a microscope, and if anyone thinks the amount dedicated to the fire service will increase, please let me know as I have a large bridge for sale. The obvious conclusion is that the broad brush approach used over the past decade will not work across the entire spectrum of issues. Note that where a large percentage of the resources went; namely personal protective and firefighting equipment, is where there has been more success.
Instead of continuing down this path and seeing marginal improvement over the next ten years with the limited resources available, why not take a hard look and establish one or two priorities and for the next five years, focus all the available funding there in order to produce a major impact. Whether it should be training, fire prevention, health & safety, or another area, is a topic for another day. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to look at these numbers; consider the billions of dollars spent to obtain modest improvements overall, and not think that there has to be a better way.