Commentary

The Roundtable: Operational Planning for Economic Hardships

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What’s happening in YOUR department?

Bill Carey and Bobby Halton

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown all of us off kilter – even the monthly Roundtable Question – but we’re back. This month’s question looks at the virus’ impact on the economy and how it trickles down to affect your operations.

“What steps are you taking to prepare operationally for anticipated economic hardships in your communities, regarding housing, abandoned buildings, un-permitted renovations, and potential overcrowded occupancies during emergencies?”

Here is what our readers had to say.

Note: Responses are solely the opinion and views of the individual and have only been edited for grammatical reasons.

Dr. Candice McDonald

Research tells us that lower-income areas are more vulnerable to devastation during disasters. One report indicated that more than 30 million housing units in the United States were plagued with significant safety hazards, such as dilapidated structures and health hazards. Disaster reduction begins with education. While fire departments can’t “fix” the economic hardships our communities face or improve housing situations, we can operationally think about fire prevention education. 

Serving in a rural community, with many poverty-stricken trailer parks that include overcrowded homes, our focus has been on education. Fire life and safety education programs should be valued just as much as suppression activities, inspections, and training. Holding free community events at the fire house, such as open houses and Halloween events, is a great way to meet the community. During those events, spend a little time educating attendees and finding out what their needs are. Those events are a great way to collect names and addresses of those in need of a smoke detector. Offering smoke alarm installation programs with firefighters doing the installing not only allows fire service members to get eyes on the inside of structures, but to also become an ally for the at-risk community members. Partnering with the schools, community centers, and places of worship are also great options for delivering formal education in the community. For volunteer fire departments, the National Volunteer Fire Council has been a great resource for obtaining free smoke detectors to distribute in the community. Asking local businesses to sponsor smoke detector distribution/installation events is another great way to help address the issue. 

Steve Pegram

What has been very interesting to me as I have watched the Cornonavitus Outbreak and what we are being told on the news and what is really happening for me/us has not aligned.  I continue to see and hear of the impending economic hardship, but being a community who funds public safety almost exclusively from periphery taxes we have not seen a decrease, in fact our 2020 revenue came in over projections and our 2021 revenue projections are above 2020 actual. 

In working on the international Association of fire chiefs economic task force on and we saw that the communities who focus a lot of their funding on income tax earnings tax and or sales tax I’ve seen the biggest impact from the pandemic and the shut down of the economy. 

In some cases I feel that this is self-inflicted wound as many communities and cities reopened and others continue to remain closed but yet want the federal government to bail them out?

As departments work through these issues some have already diversified and gone to their voters to change how public safety is funded others will need to look at cuts reductions in capital expenditures etc. in order to weather the storm the final solution really is to re-open the economy get people back to work traveling and spending so that our cities especially the major metropolitan areas can recover as quickly as possible for once and our little part of Ohio we are lucky that our funding has not been impacted and the extra expenses that we had to make to address the corona Virus pandemic or reimbursed through federal and state aid in fact we were not only able to reimbursed 100% of our cost but purchase additional equipment and PPE for the future.

Ed Dolan

In Catskill NY we have had a rush on vacants being bought up and transformed into viable housing. Being 100 miles north of New York City we are getting the city folks who are fleeing the pandemic and civil unrest. Housing has gone through the roof. Any housing that’s been sitting is gone to wealthier folks moving in.

The lack of new housing stock and being able to off load properties to be renovated to those moving in has presented challenges. We have had an explosion of government subsidised housing (section 8) landlords off load properties and do makeshift renovations on others to put the low income clients in. Places with two low income families they  have three or four now. Most in all wood frame dwelling attached or severe exposure issues.

We beefed up our working fire assignment and the second alarm to bring in an additional truck company. We have seen the overcrowding in these dwellings first hand. We handed out girl scout cookies in these neighborhoods this summer and were able to identify addresses we know we could be overwhelmed with multiple victims.

Dave LeBlanc

Our Department is fairly proactive in identifying and marking vacant buildings, and does a “building of the week” program developed by our Fire Prevention Officer to highlight marked buildings and give the members a better idea of pre-fire conditions. 

Because we are a smaller community, changes in operational status of buildings are pretty easy to track as well as alterations. We have a great relationship with the other inspectional services in town that keep us in the loop for permitted changes, as well.  

One issue we have had to adapt to is the outside dinning component.  From open tents, to now tents with sides and heaters, we are working hard with the community to keep businesses open and safe.  

Overcrowding/increased occupancy is probably the most difficult issue to track and control.  Our access to residential properties is either for routine inspections or emergency calls, which generally means we will miss a lot of occupancy related problems.  This is more of a mindset piece for suppression personnel, where they have to be aware that there may be more people that normal in residence.  

One other change is that our community has a seasonal population that usually leaves by Columbus Day.   With the ability to work and school from home, we expect and are seeing more of our seasonal residents to be here year round. 

The other concern will be the potential for deliberate fires due to economic hardship. However, it really isn’t something extra to plan for, if you go to work expecting to go to fires then you are in the right mindset if these fires occur.  Just add being aware that building may be in state of deterioration or that you may have advanced Fire on arrival should address this concern. 

Do you want to be part of the next Roundtable? Do you have to topic to discuss?
Contact Bill Carey at [email protected]

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