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Learning Center Experience
By Robb Watkins, School
of Public Safety Adjunct Faculty
I have been in the fire and emergency medical services
(EMS) for over 20 years. In that time, I have seen an amazing amount of change in
both the industry and in the nation. The fire
service has been pushing for changes in building codes and
educating the public on the benefits of sprinklers, smoke detectors, and alarm
systems for many years. Data now shows that these efforts are paying off and have
led to a reduction in the number of fires, civilian fire-related injuries, and
civilian fire deaths. The reduction in injuries and deaths from fire is, of
course, a wonderful trend for the United States. But this trend leaves the fire
service with a void to fill when justifying its existence. And yes, the fire
service spends a lot of time justifying its existence especially in tough
economic times when its parent governmental organization is in a budget crisis.
At the same time, calls for service continue and the public still expects
appropriate service levels, which also drives new fire service initiatives.
with any business that is looking to survive and maintain viability, the fire
service has looked to other service areas in order to stay competitive and
valued by its customers. The first market that the fire service embraced was emergency
medical services (EMS) in the 1970s. Most
paid fire departments now require their members to have a minimum of EMT
certification and many require EMT-P (paramedic) certification. As an example,
in my fire protection district 80 percent of our calls are EMS-related. We
require a minimum of EMT certification and will soon have an advanced life
support (ALS) paramedic on every engine company.
materials (Haz-Mat) response has been around for several decades and since 9/11
the teams have new missions and updated names, such as the Specialized
Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, Radiological (COBRA), or WMD (Weapons of Mass
Destruction) response teams. The post 9/11 terrorism funding from the federal government
has provided the equipment for these new teams. Even departments that are too
small or do not have the sufficient resources to have their own Haz-Mat teams
can now allow their personnel to participate in a regional team and loan their
people to the team when needed. In return they can call upon the team when they
fire departments are also embracing technical rescue, Heavy Rescue, or Urban
Search and Rescue (USAR). USAR has been around since the early 1980s and the
term technical rescue has been around since the 1960s. Like Haz-Mat, USAR is
very expensive and the training requirements are intensive, which requires a
significant investment of personnel training time and money. Large metro
departments may have the financial and administrative resources necessary to
fund their own individual teams as a sponsoring agency. However, the national
trend toward non-federal USAR teams reflects a scalable model in which several different
organizations come together to form a county, regional, or state team.
Management (EM) is also a rapidly expanding field that the
fire service has embraced. Many governmental organizations are turning to fire
department leadership to run organizational EM divisions. EM program
administration is much larger than just incident management and response.
Federal training funds are also available through homeland security grants that
enable fire service personnel to increase their knowledge base and
certification levels. The EM training is outside of normal suppression training
The fire service has
used the Incident Command System (ICS) for years and at its very core are the
principles of unity of command and span of control. Those themes are central to
the National Incident Management System (NIMS). An additional aspect of
emergency management is the formation of incident support teams (ISTs) to
assist in managing major incidents and disasters. ISTs are becoming an
indispensable part of large-scale disaster response.
more recent service area adopted by the fire service is that of law enforcement
support. EMT and paramedics from the fire service are now supporting Special
Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams as fully functional team members. Recent high-profile
incidents in the United States continue to prove the need for rapid fire and
EMS support during terrorism attacks, school shootings, and civil unrest
incidents. Such events suggest that this need may increase and that further
expansion will be necessary to protect the public and emergency responders.
firefighting recruits are less likely than their predecessors to pick a career
path of “suppression only.” We are experiencing an unprecedented combination of
economic pressures that require the fire service to maximize its operational
efficiencies, increase its organizational transparency, and train its personnel
for an all-hazards response. The rate of change in the industry is increasing
exponentially and is not likely to slow down. We must embrace change and accept
the fact that our world is changing rapidly and we, the fire service, need to
change with our environment if we are going to survive and stay relevant.
We must never stop.
Robb Watkins is an adjunct faculty member at Kaplan
University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author
and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.
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