Why We Need to Take the ‘Fire’ Out of ‘Fire Department’ – Let’s Discuss

governingYesterday, Phil Keisling published an article on Governing.com titled “Why We Need to Take the ‘Fire’ Out of ‘Fire Department’“. Phil is the director of the faculty-led research team for Portland State University’s Center for Public Service according to his article.

While I am sure that most firefighters who read the title of the article and then the subsequent article would think…Shouldn’t a Director of a research team at a Center for Public Service know a little more about the Fire Service than what he leads on to in the article. To me, the article seems more like it was written by an ill-informed citizen.

There are many different models of fire and/or EMS delivery in the United States; combined or separate, volunteer, paid, paid-on-call, or otherwise. We know that whether we are firefighters, firefighter EMT’s, or firefighter/Paramedics, we know our jobs, we know our service, and we are proud to offer public service.

I don’t want to me overtly negative, nor do I want to spend hours researching his data. Therefore, I will take his data as truth and give his research the benefit of the doubt. After all, his data isn’t where I feel he went wrong in his research…his understanding of the fire service (including fire based EMS) is where I think he got off track. I don’t think he understands it at all.

The simplest answer to his title statement “Why We Need to Take the ‘Fire’ Out of ‘Fire Department’” is two fold…

  1. Many “fire departments” have changed their names to a Fire & EMS Department or a Fire Rescue Department in the past 25 years. While it isn’t a huge change, the public still identifies with it. When we change names, confusion can occur. It makes sense sticking with what works and what people know. When people call 911 in my City, they get the service they request (Fire,Rescue/EMS, Police). It only takes a second to explain if a fire engine shows up before an ambulance on an EMS call.
  2. The truth is that if we were to change our name to something that encompasses everything we do it would simply be too long.

Yes, the name would be too long. Which brings up ALL of the other stuff we do that the author fails to report on…Sure we run fires and EMS calls…but what about hazardous materials calls, technical rescue, fire investigations, inspections, hydrant maintenance, hose testing, installing smoke detectors, public service requests (appearances), prevention, fire prevention education, and more!

But those are just some of the stuff we do on routine. The truth is that others emergencies are not measurable. What is an emergency to one person may not be to another. That is why we get called out when citizens don’t know who to call for help.

Unfortunately, the author does not give an answer to his question. His data and argument is that we run more EMS calls than Fire calls. Tell me something I don’t already know. I think that Portland State University should get their money back.

The biggest reason for the huge gap in Fire and EMS calls is that we don’t charge for Fire calls and we do charge for EMS calls. Yet, we do fire prevention, but not EMS prevention…here’s a hint. The more EMS calls we run, the more money our localities make. The less fire calls we run, the less expenses there are to offer the services. The services are in place either way…think about it.

Is he seriously arguing that we should simply be called “Department” or swap out fire with EMS and be called the “EMS Department”. Imagine when that change happens and all the locals think that we don’t put out fires anymore. After all, they know that we respond to EMS calls already.

So, I imagine that was just a catchy title the author used to get readers. I think it is amateur for a “Director” of a research team to allow it. Then again, as a blogger myself, I understand the need for a catchy title to get people’s attention. I just wish he had used that attention more wisely.

His only true argument is below:

“Most firefighters, at best, have only an Emergency Medical Technical certification. Although more certified paramedics are being hired, they still comprise less than 30 percent of many cities’ forces. Paramedics also cost more — a handy rationale for continuing to hire for the past, not the future — and are increasingly hard to recruit and keep amidst job requirements that they also fight the occasional fire.”

I agree. But what he omits is the trend over the past 15+ years to get more dual-role Firefighter/EMT’s trained as paramedics. He doesn’t even mention it. And truthfully, dual-role paramedics only cost a fraction more than their non-paramedic, yet still dual-role counterparts.

The plain and simple truth is this…

When people have an emergency, they know to call 911. When the call comes in, our dispatchers know who to send. When we respond, we act. When we are done fulfilling our services, we go back in service and await the next call.

I suggest that Phil look out his window and try to identify any fires still burning, any patients still waiting for an ambulance, or any other emergencies still waiting for us to respond. He won’t find any, unless they just occurred while he reads this article.

I think that is commendable. I think it is a job well done.

Rhett Fleitz
The Fire Critic