The definition of the “progressive” fire department and the “progressive” firefighter is subjective. Nevertheless, here are some issues that may help tell if you`re on the cusp or doomed to play catch-up.

Have you completely explored and implemented fireground rapid intervention teams? This is such a simple, common-sense concept, it makes you wonder why no one thought of it sooner. Although it`s an after-the-fact solution, RITs will save lives. But remember: The success of this concept relies on the incident commander anticipating the need early in the incident and on designating a team that has specialized training in firefighter rescue. A new training program called “Saving Our Own,” developed by a group from the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute, addresses this issue and is definitely worth looking into.

Have you explored the idea of a regionalized or statewide fire service response to natural and man-made disasters? The Federal Emergency Management Agency`s USAR Task Force program is great, but it may take as long as 24 hours to fully mobilize a federal response. Since local response is the first line of defense in mitigating disasters, and since the first few hours are so critical to success or failure, it makes real sense to get specialized resources on the scene in a hurry.

Have you stayed current with federal initiatives in the area of preparedness for terrorist incident response? There were more than 1,000 terrorist bombings around the United States last year. The raw materials for chemical terrorism are easily available in every community, and creating a deadly mixture does not require a terrorist with a degree in rocket science. What kind of assistance can you expect from the federal government? What effort will you put together at the local and regional levels? (Fire Engineering will publish a detailed status of federal initiatives and available resources in an upcoming issue.)

Have you dealt with standards and regulatory compliance issues or are you still treading water, or even drowning? In a recent Connecticut collapse that killed a firefighter, the fire department was cited by state OSHA, both operationally and organizationally. How will this play in future lawsuits? How will this impact individual firefighters and the fire department as a whole, not just legally, but in terms of fireground effectiveness? Are you prepared for such a distasteful but real possibility?

Are you aware that NFPA 1200, Standard on Fire Service Organization and Deployment, has been drafted and currently is in the comment period? This significant document will have a heavy impact on fire departments all across the country, a la NFPA 1500. It covers fire department organizational structure, disaster planning, community risk management, fireground staffing and personnel deployment, mutual aid, training, personnel administration, water management, communication, apparatus, and many other areas. Remember, any person, whether an NFPA member or not, can offer comments on proposed standards. Get a copy of this document from the NFPA and have input into the future of the fire service; the comment period ends April 11.

Firefighters are at risk from sick miscreants in the community. In December, firefighter-paramedics from the Washington D.C. Fire Department were attacked by a gunman and an accomplice out to kill the patient in the ambulance, which they succeeded in doing. Recently, a fire investigator was attacked by a civilian with a lawnmower. In New York, firefighters in the Bronx were placed at severe risk by a neighborhood mob after they tried to assist an individual who was being badly beaten on the street near their firehouse. Do you have contingency plans to protect firefighters placed at risk from the nice “customers” who get a little too “frisky”? You wear a uniform and a badge–you are a target.

Are you still playing the staffing charade? That a three-member crew is just as safe and effective as four? That responding, say, a total force of nine firefighters and chief officers on three apparatus is an adequate response to a working fire in a busy suburban business district? That you can rapidly extinguish heavy fire in a strip mall with a common cockloft with 10 firefighters? Does city management know exactly what you can accomplish with these nine or 10 firefighters? Mutual aid is not a panacea!

Are you aggressive with respect to fixed fire protection technology? Do you agree that to be truly committed to firefighter safety and life safety in general we must first and foremost be committed to automatic intervention first, before manual response? Or are you one who, by not focusing the needed resources on the prevention and fixed protection solution, gives silent acceptance of our yearly fire losses–4,000 civilian fire deaths, 100 firefighter deaths, 100,000 firefighter injuries, and billions of dollars in property losses? Are you one who repackages codes instead of focusing on construction, fixed protection, and code enforcement deficiencies that kill firefighters? Are you one who says, in effect, “How stupid of you, firefighter, to try to do your duty and put yourself in harm`s way of a structure that we allowed to be poorly built and unprotected! You are a dangerous firefighter!”? Are you one who, when the city managers said, “Fire Department, we don`t know what you do, you don`t show us any quantifiable productivity, and you`re a major cost center, so we demand that you expand your services or we will cut you to the bone–now get jumping,” jumped through the EMS hoops like a kid in the gerbil tube at Discovery Zone, unwilling or incapable of marketing fire prevention in quantifiable terms that bean counters understand? Have you ever equated a firefighter death or injury with a lack of prevention or fixed protection?

Do you have a comprehensive firefighter fitness/wellness program in your department? Comprehensive standard operating guidelines issued to every firefighter? An accountability system that isn`t just for show? Community and internal risk management programs?

Are you an empowered firefighter? Have you been provided with and have you sought the level of training, the education, and the latitude you need to be a professional risk manager? Are you the “community water squirters and autodefib technicians” or masters of risk on the fireground? For in truth, the fire department that has sacrificed its firefighter professional development program (its training program) to service expansion or budget cutbacks or whatever has mortgaged its future and ensured that the line-of-duty firefighter injury and death rates per fire will continue long into the next millennium.

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