Fire Fighter Productivity
Noting that standby time inherent in the “job of most fire fighters” is damaging to their public image, the commission looked at ways to increase their productivity.
“Most leaders in the fire services agree that the productive time of fire fighters ought to be increased,” the report stated.
The activities that “ought to receive topmost priority in extending fire fighters’ productivity lie in the area of fire prevention,” the commission declared. “A much heavier investment of time and resources in fire prevention” is the best way to reduce losses in life and property, the commission felt. It charged that although “many departments recognize responsibilities in fire prevention, too few are doing all they should or could.”
The report suggested that inspections would be made to enforce codes, ordinances and “common-sense fire prevention practices.” Building plans could be reviewed in cooperation with the building department. Hydrants, sprinkler systems and standpipes could be inspected. Inspections also could be made in such high-risk areas as woodenstructured slums and buildings under construction.
Fire departments should also conduct educational programs—not just for school children and householders, but also for employees of hospitals, hotels and other public buildings. These programs, the commission advised, should be conducted on a year-round schedule.
“The payoffs of such efforts,” the commission predicted, “lie in reduced demands for fire suppression, and reduced deaths, injuries and property losses.”
Little research has been done to determine which of the activities mentioned offers the greatest possibility of success, the commission said, but “for the sake of the public’s safety, the time to get on with it is now.”
Research on productivity and injuries
Moreover, the commission recommended that the proposed U.S. fire administration sponsor research in the productivity of fire departments, job analyses, fire fighter injuries and fire prevention efforts. In these areas, it was suggested that comparisons be made of different strategies used by fire departments with the objective of isolating “the factor that makes the difference in performance.”
Furthermore, the commission saw the need for research so urgent that it urged “the federal research agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Bureau of Standards, to sponsor research appropriate to their respective missions within the areas of productivity of fire departments, causes of fire fighter injuries, effectiveness of fire prevention efforts, and the skills required to perform various fire department functions.”
In explaining that the lack of cost-effectiveness studies makes it impossible to foretell the effects of manpower cuts, the commission remarked, “But this is not solely a scientific question; it has a moral dimension as well. Saving lives, reducing property losses and preventing fire fighter injuries are far more important considerations than efficiency in government. It is far better to err on the side of overmanning than to risk the public’s safety through manpower cuts.
“Economy-minded governments,” the commission added, “should be concerned with getting greater productivity from their fire departments, not with saving dollars to the possible detriment of their citizen’s safety.”
Emergency rescue services
Another field for using fire fighters’ special capabilities, the commission found, is emergency ambulance and paramedic service.
The commission recommended “that fire departments lacking emergency ambulance, paramedic, and rescue services consider providing them, especially if they are located in communities where these services are not adequately provided by other agencies.” The commission also warned that careful planning is necessary to make certain that “the general rescue responsibility does not compromise the fire department’s responsibilities in fire protection—and vice versa.”
The report pointed out that if fire stations are properly located for quick response to fires, then ambulances in those stations would be just as logically deployed. Rescue service is not a major shift of responsibility, the commission observed, for fire fighters who are, “by temperament and training, people-rescuers.” In addition, a communications system that can handle fire apparatus is well on the way to being sufficient for handling all emergencies. It was acknowledged that assumption of rescue services raises the need for new equipment, additional training programs and, most likely, more manpower.