The Toll of Increasing Call Volumes and Training Requirements on Combination Fire Departments
By Brad Davison, alumnus, American Military University
In the fire service, increasing call volumes and firefighter training requirements are areas of constant concern. Based on research I conducted in the fall of 2017 as part of my thesis capstone from American Military University, they account for two of several notable challenges that Midwest fire chiefs of combination departments are experiencing.
I’ve written about the two most frequently reported challenges, budget and funding limitations and the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. Call volumes and greater training requirements were joint for the third most frequently reported challenge.
Both training requirements and increasing call volumes have received a fair amount of research interest in the past. The fire service has been fortunate to have outstanding scientific research from UL and NIST over the past decade. This research has led many departments to rethink how they fight fires. Minimum staffing levels, worsening fire conditions, and an expectation of superior performance means training needs and requirements are at an all-time high demand. This demand isn’t likely to subside anytime in the near future.
Additionally, the fire service is continually being tasked with more and more responsibilities. For example, hazmat and terrorism response were not widespread fire department responsibilities until events like the Oklahoma City bombing and the Kingman Rail Car BLEVE. As a result, fire departments now respond to more hazardous situations than ever before and must be trained to respond to any situation. Unfortunately, this trend isn’t expected to diminish anytime soon.
Political Barriers and Obstacles
Political barriers/obstacles also ranked highly in my research on the issues faced by combination departments. This data has some interesting implications. Neither employee recruitment/retention nor political barriers/obstacles were in the top three most frequently reported issues. These rankings indicate that while these issues may not occur as frequently as increasing call volumes and training requirements, they present a considerable detriment to a fire department when they are present.
Employee recruitment/retention and political barriers/obstacles have not received much research attention, yet pose very resolvable challenges. As with the recruitment and retention of volunteers, understanding and acting upon the unique motivations and discouragements of employees has the ability to provide immense benefit, with little or no funding needed. Additionally, although the American political system can be difficult to navigate or truly understand, with targeted strategies and trainings, chiefs could be given the tools to work alongside their political supervisors. Study and research into these two categories could provide evidence, incentive and direction for overcoming these challenges in the American Fire Service.
While increasing call volumes and growing training requirements do not currently have many reliable solutions, understanding the issues and their underlying causes is important for chiefs before scarce resources are allocated to a “solution.” Instead, if fire chiefs realize that many other departments are experiencing similar challenges, collaboration and knowledge-sharing may be fostered amongst departments to find long-term and effective solutions.
About the Author: Brad Davison is an engineer/paramedic in Indianola, Iowa. In the fall of 2017, Brad completed his Master’s degree in Public Administration, with a concentration in Emergency Management from American Military University. Beginning his career as a POC firefighter, Brad has a passion for combination fire departments. To contact the author, please email IPSauthor@apus.edu. To receive more articles like this in your inbox, please sign up for In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.