Managing all the pots on our proverbial stovetop
Leaders, we must stay focused the myriad issues impacting our membership, even those that can feel distant from day-to-day operations
Chiefs, as we approach Fire Prevention Week – this year focused on cooking fire safety – it feels appropriate to apply our same safety logic and messaging to the myriad hot button issues facing the fire service.
Here’s what I mean: We tell our citizens to be mindful of cooking safety, never neglecting what’s happening on the stovetop, as a pot of food can quickly boil over, igniting a fire. We also tell ourselves to embrace CRR concepts that reach far beyond “traditional” fire prevention efforts. Ultimately, risk reduction is achieved when we work together to form a virtual net around your communities. (I encourage you to visit both the U.S. Fire Administration CRR resource page and the Vision 20/20 CRR project site, hosted by the Institution of Fire Engineers – USA Branch, to see how, together, our industry partners and our fire departments are making a difference.)
Similarly, fire service leaders cannot turn a blind eye to the hot button issues ready to boil over on our proverbial fire service stovetop – and we cannot rely on outdated approaches to manage these issues. We must pay attention to ALL of the pots on our stove, or something is going to get lost in the steam or, worse yet, the fire.
Here are a few topics we can’t let out of our sight:
Mandatory overtime: We’re dealing with a lot of staffing-related struggles that have ramped up over the past 24 months, stretched us thin and tested our mettle. Mandatory overtime seems to have crested the curve, moving slowly away from critical meltdown, but it’s far from over. Even if conditions ease in one area, keep your eye on the staffing pot to prevent similar issues from boiling over and creating a dangerous environment for your crews.
COVID: COVID is surging through our medical systems again. At the time of this writing, the national “positive” count was nearing record numbers. While I sense a “we’ve been here, done that” attitude among many, we should all heed the lessons we learned the first time, like the benefits of social distancing. Masking may or may not make sense, depending on your situation and/or the rules of your organization/municipality. We need to watch EMS call volumes and work with our health partners to avoid many of the past pitfalls where possible.
Federal budget: The looming annual federal budget cycle shutdown threat has significant potential impact for the fire service. From grants to National Fire Academy classes and all things non-emergent, FEMA/NFA shuts down when there is a federal budget stalemate. At the street service level, we need to ensure that we’re prepared to keep the wheels rolling on the street during times like these, and that we’re able to adjust on the fly for travel plans and programs that may get put on hold or canceled all together.
Strike impacts: While we wouldn’t normally talk about other industry strikes, there are a couple of important things that may impact you and your decision-making processes. Related to the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike, as of the time of this writing, talks with Ford appear to be advancing, while talks with GM and Stellantis are deteriorating – and parts and distribution strikes have now been added to the assembly plant list of authorized strikes. Supply chain issues will begin to affect new vehicle delivery and current vehicle maintenance concerns. While you may not see an immediate effect, if you have vehicles in your fleet that are affected, the strike will affect you. Additionally, if you have volunteer members who are also UAW members, the pressures of the job/strike will soon weigh heavy on their personal lives and their psyche, which will become an issue for you.
Similarly, pilots and airline workers from Southwest, American and KLM (among others) have either authorized strikes or are currently in required federal arbitration to try to avoid a strike. This is important to you for the same reasons as the UAW strike: supply-chain issues and employee/volunteer stress. Additionally, planned travel for training and conferences could be compromised if a strike occurs, as airlines would surely struggle to cover flights and rebook passengers. Keep an eye on your membership, watching for heightened stress related to the impact of these strikes on their personal lives.
2024 national election: Seems like yesterday that DC fire/EMS units were struggling along with law enforcement to access the throngs of patients on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. As we slowly roll toward the 2024 elections, the attitudes dividing our country continue to wear on even the hardiest of souls. Your folks may find themselves in the midst of challenging conversations, even responses, related to such political division. We MUST take time now to talk with our folks about the importance of neutrality in public safety – neutrality in the public trust.
Don’t forget the everyday!
There’s a lot going on at the 30,000-foot level. Make sure your folks are continuing to focus on training, response and CRR. After all, when Grandma Jones calls, she expects and deserves SERVICE. Are you watching all the pots on your stove? With all of these global issues simmering or cooking on your stove, don’t forget to keep adding water to the pots, and make sure that Grandma Jones is front and center in everything you do!