10 bold fire service predictions from 2000

Robert Rielage

Over the years, many have speculated on what might be the role of fire and emergency services in the future. I discussed four tectonics that will help shape the future fire service in an article published here in April 2015.

Recently, however, several of my friends and I discussed the effects of a large-scale project that started over 20 years ago. The project, entitled Vision 2010, Communique for Change, was a three-year project of the Institution of Fire Engineers USA Branch from its inception to publication.

Over 100 fire service leaders from both the United States and the United Kingdom met several times in what was called the US/UK Fire Service Symposium to discuss current topics and to lay the groundwork for this communique. I was fortunate to be among those who attended these symposiums and participated in the process.

The driving force for these meetings, however, were Chief Bill Peterson, then of Plano, Texas and later a regional director for FEMA, and Chief Fire Officer Dennis Davis, then Her Majesty’s chief fire service inspectorate – in essence the chief adviser to the U.K.’s Home Secretary on fire service issues.

The 12-page report in its entirety was published in the U.S. as a supplement within Fire Chief Magazine and in the U.K. as part of Fire Magazine.

Among those other fire service leaders attending the symposiums was my friend, Bill Kehoe of the Alexandria (Va.) Fire Department. It was Bill who reminded me of the work this group had accomplished and suggested that a look back was appropriate.

Before beginning, I must give one caveat. The communique was published in January 2000 – no one could have contemplated then the changes that would affect both the fire service in the United States and the United Kingdom as a result of the terrorist attacks that would beset both countries in less than two years.

The Vision 2010 project had several unique features, including these three.

  • It included a trans-Atlantic perspective – and in part was influenced by several ongoing changes in the U.K. fire service that didn’t begin to evolve in the United States until after the report was published.
  • It was compiled with both long-term input and output that gave a clearer vision of long-term effects and trends.
  • It predicted the fire service in 2010 would have adapted to changes in several areas, 10 were critical.

Vision 2010 was not only unique in that it discussed the perceived changes on both sides of the Atlantic. It also looked at the fire service in a truly international perspective, including how international groups such as the NFPA, ICC and others could begin to provide influence on such items as building standards and safety in the global environment.

Here are 10 critical areas forecast for change by the year 2010 and hence corresponding changes in the fire service. You can judge how well this group succeeded in its prediction.

1. Community

Vision 2010 envisioned that communities as we knew them would change. Increasingly there would be no real ethnic majority in countries by as early as 2030 due to new immigration from different regions of the world.

Unlike the assimilation that had been seen in previous centuries, 21st century immigrants would want to retain their own culture and language in designated neighborhoods that would in time require the diversity of fire service personnel to expand if we were to be able to have the necessary outreach in areas of community risk reduction, EMS and 911 emergency reporting.

2. Politics

The report recognized that politics covered both the formal power structure of government and the informal power exerted by individuals and community organizations.

It suggested the successful fire chief and department of the 21st century would have many informal alliances that showed the cost and benefit of the services they provided and lobbied them on the need for additional services as well as the authority and funding to properly carry them out.

3. Equal opportunity

This section suggested that the fire service needed to assure diversity in both its own personnel and outward to the people they serve. This equity should extend to all ethnic, gender and sexual orientation to build unity between the fire service and the community it serves.

4. Technology

This section of the report addressed not only potential advancement in such areas as information technology, but also in areas of building design and construction that could have considerable impact on the fire service.

It suggested a more proactive approach to input in these areas, keeping in mind that the overall safety of our firefighters remained our primary goal.

5. Change management

The principle idea of this section was to indicate that change is not only inevitable, but that it can also be channeled through strong leadership for the benefit of the fire service.

It stressed that change, when part of the department’s vision, can be planned with goals and initiatives that support the vision to improve the services it provides.

6. Workforce

To support the areas of community and equal opportunity, the fire service workforce needed to more closely match the demographics of the community it serves.

Impediments such as hostility, harassment and partisanship had to be overcome to allow the diversity expected in a professional organization that could obtain widespread community support.

7. Funding

Again, no one in the Vision 2010 group could have expected the worldwide economic downturn and continued stagnant economy that occurred in 2008 and beyond.

Yet it suggested such items as public – private partnerships, collaboration among communities to avoid overlaps or redundancies in service, and use of existing funding for core services based on the community’s expectations and desired outcomes.

8. Leadership

The report suggested that fire service leaders need to take a more active and visible role to the public and the community at large. The leader needs to have knowledge, education, dedication and professionalism beyond basic fire and EMS skills.

They need this to recognize opportunities and match those opportunities with skills that allow continual improvement of our fundamental services and additional services as funding and authority may allow.

9. Roles

The role of the fire service remains to provide services that are necessary, achievable and essential to the mission, vision and objectives set forth by the community.

While embracing technology, the true test of the level of services to be provided should be whether these technical enhancements allow essential services to be provided faster, cheaper and without redundancy.

10. Vision

Future vision begins with an accurate assessment of the present, a determination of possible future trends and an alignment of those trends with the expectations of the community.

Once that alignment between community and the fire service takes place, a true vision or path to the future can be achieved with a written master plan.

However, that plan should be flexible enough to be refined given changes in the expectations of the population’s served, the continued evolution of technology, and potential partnership opportunities that can enhance the overall fire service delivery.

Well, there you have a synopsis of three year’s work begun in 1997 and completed in 2000 that tried to envision what the fire service of 2010 would be like.

While many of these areas continue to evolve, I believe the greatest achievement of the fire service on both sides of the Atlantic has been to adapt to their changing roles. Those roles include both mitigating terrorist acts and delivering community risk reduction programs that further define us as an all-risk emergency service.

My thanks to Bill Kehoe for his input, and for the leadership given by so many to make Vision 2010 a reality beginning 20 years ago.

The question might now be who or what organization might take up the challenge to refine this report and develop the further direction for the fire service by the year 2030?

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