I recently became friendly with a Battalion Chief who I freqently see in passing. He was kind enough to give me his time for a brief interview, though asked to remain anonymous for the sake of privacy. Our interview is paraphrased it here…
Q. Who do you feel has been one of the most influential people in the fire industry within the last decade and why?
A. Retired Fire Chief Alan V. Brunacini of the Phoenix Fire Department –The PFD are on the leading edge of many new policies, procedures and modern technologies. They have a unique take on modern leadership and span of control and Alan had a lot to do with that. Also, former State Fire Marshall, Ronnie Coleman. He’s been doing fire service accreditation around the state and that’s making big differences in the quality of service being offered. Agencies are reviewed using a set of criteria which verify that departments are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. This helps raise the bar in terms of their service to the community and being accredited gives departments ammunition in the fight for funding.
Q. Who has been your biggest influence and why?
A. Alan Brunacini – He’s not enamored with tech and he’s a big proponent of safety. He won’t let firefighters take risks over property, especially when it’s only going to be torn down a few days later anyway. He always asks the question “What are we risking here?” Life risks are taken only for life saves.
Q. What changes do you see (or imagine) coming to the fire service within the span of the 21st century?
A. The core mission will remain the same, but expansion in the medical field would be good. The scope of practice for the paramedic is what it is, but bringing in more advanced techniques and a broader reach with drugs could be beneficial. One potential change I hope doesn’t happen is the idea that more and more will be done at the Fire station itself. Getting stitches at the ER takes forever; it might start being done at the Fire House.
I think we’ll need to prove our public value and worth through accreditation. Take our budget (which pushes $50 million dollars a year) and consider if that much money was even at fire risk over the course of the year. What is it really worth to go in, stop a fire, and save a house which is going to end up being torn down and rebuilt anyway?
Q. What do think the biggest “hole” in firefighter equipment is today?
A. We struggle in getting all people in the fire service to understand the value we need to provide to the public. We need to understand how important public value is. The big budget and these fire engines need to “enhance” the value of living in the city in which we live. “I think the fire service believes its own press-clippings. Also, we still kill people (firefighters) for no good reason. We need to recognize what’s worth the life risks we’re taking.
Q. In regards to fire prevention, what changes need to come, and where have we seen recent success?
A. Residential sprinkler ordinances have been a huge success. Problem is, the building industry fights us at every turn. Also, we need to ban wood-shake roofs. We need to have the insurance industry come down on people who do not take proper fire prevention precautions. I see homes all the time that are un-savable, but could easily be modified for fire prevention.
We are seeing success in hazard and weed abatement. Between The “cedar fire” in San Diego county and the “Witch Fire” (2003 and 2007)…. they set up the reverse 911 system which did a tremendous job getting people out of the way of those fires, and ultimately saved a lot of lives.
Q. Are you familiar with any of the following emerging technologies?* (*See The Future Of Firefighting post)
A. I’m not a big fan of “technology” because I view it as a huge cash cow for businesses trying to invent the next big hit. I find we always go “back to basics” for which they have training programs of the same name. We are seeing certain additives to water which are allowing us to improve the effectiveness of our “basic” firefighting practices. The more technology there is, the more room there is for it to break down. I’m a big fan of simple & reliable. I see more and more information systems like PASS and air status systems which help, though I still do pretty well with my clip board.
Q. Do you see the governments’ financial problems affecting the future of firefighter salaries and retirement packages?
A. I do. It’s tough because you’re dealing with negotiated union contracts which are fairly safe. Still, there are a lot of public entities who are reliant on the government having money to pay them. I think we’ll see a tiered system in the future. Something’s gotta give.