Recently a Fire Chief from the community of Shaker Heights, Ohio (metro Cleveland) took a position and stand on issues affecting the department and the community related to budget reductions demanded by the mayor’s office. Refer to the event postings HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE, if you missed the details.
The economic challenges and issues affecting all fire and emergency service agencies has become self evident in nearly all facets of operations, management, staffing and resources. The rolling brownouts, station closings, personnel layoffs and the reduction or elimination of resources for emergency responses is changing the profile, quality and safety of the fire and emergency services. Check these out, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE , HERE, and HERE.
The Fire Chief of Shaker Heights, Ohio, who was duly sworn to provide protection to the community, its citizens, the physical assets that comprised the community and to the fire service personnel under his watch, made it clear that as a professional, a manager and the qualified individual by virtue of his position as the Chief of Fire determined that additional budget reductions would jeopardize the community’s residents and his personnel.
The Chief stated in his reply to the mayor; “I just can’t professionally or morally do what you have instructed without jeopardizing the health, safety and welfare of our residents and our firefighter.” He was summarily fired by the mayor for not following through on the directives and balking at the mayor’s orders.
There are a number of consensus standards, programs and policies that help define and establish a standard of service for fire protection that suggests a more robust level of community safety and protection while balancing the safety and well being of fire service personnel, providing adequacy of resources while managing community risk and defenses. Prominent in these attributes are the NFPA, 1710, 1720, 1500, the Center for Public Safety Excellence and the NFFF/EGH Initiatives.
Having intensely stayed abreast and monitoring the various impacts the fire service has been forced to endure over the past eight months, through various media reports, direct discussions with fire chiefs and personnel around the country and first hand observations; I pose the following questions for you to think about.
· Do the politicians, elected officials and professional managers that run community governments truly understand the implications of reduced fire protection and emergency services to their communities?
· Does the public comprehend the impact and magnitude adequacy of services, resource and staffing capabilities and timeliness of response may have on their safety?
· Do you think more Fire Chief’s should take a position and stand as did the Chief from Ohio? Do you think it will make a difference or perpetuate further detriment to the fire department?
· Do you think community politicians, elected officials and professional managers are taking advantage of the present economic strife to institute sweeping changes to fire department organizations that would not have been feasible under different circumstances?
· Are there real moral and ethical issues when confronted with reductions in services that (we) can articulate and support with facts, data and research that will create increased risk to life and property if instituted, contrary to the demands of the politicians, elected officials and professional managers? Or are these just perceptions that the fire service selects to champion as our cause?