Vision 20/20 Program Says Fire Chiefs Need Risk Management Training

Redefined Fire Chief Position May Require More Training

The American branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers found a nationwide need for more risk management training among fire chiefs. Some departments rewrote fire chief job descriptions as a result.

The expected requirements of fire chiefs have changed over the past several years as layoffs, budget cuts, new technology, and social issues make a heavy impact. Chiefs from Nebraska to California are adjusting to redefined job descriptions with more emphasis on integrated risk management, exploring and investing in useful technology, and paying attention to ethical and cultural concerns. Potential hires may face additional fire chief training on top of years of experience to meet the new requirements.

In some cities, other aspects of the job position have been cut for practical reasons, such as holding an EMT certification. Although emergency response for medical calls is in high demand among fire departments nationwide, fire chiefs are rarely the ones administering literal hands-on care. These pragmatic decisions make sense, but fire chiefs looking for new job opportunities may be at a disadvantage with accreditations that are no longer relevant and new theories to learn.

The national Vision 20/20 Program, created by the American branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers, recommends that new chiefs are equipped with advanced fire command training. The program hits on points like reducing fire loss, increasing prevention programs, and conducting better risk management, including a community risk analysis. Based on the new public safety suggestions, chiefs would evaluate a city’s hazards and use that assessment to determine department staffing, equipment, and budget needs.

Considering the national scope of understaffed crews, firefighter training that includes extensive risk analyses may help commanders perform thorough situation awareness checks. According to blogger, published author, and former fire chief, Richard Gasaway, failing to consider all aspects of situation awareness—especially a personnel size-up—has led to many firefighter injuries and line-of-duty deaths. But knowing the potential risks of a community, structure, construction materials, and crew may reduce such accidents.

Chiefs must be able to set and maintain realistic expectations of firefighter performance in a variety of emergency situations. Basic firefighter training must run the gamut of preparedness: homeland security threats, wildfires, drug labs, public transit disasters, aviation incidents, and more. As the chief position evolves, commanders must build on former knowledge and utilize fire chief training to do personnel size-ups for each of those unique situations. As Gasaway emphasizes, having a firm grasp of situational awareness is one of the only ways to predict rapid developments and keep people safe.

That level of foresight (and leadership) saves lives, property, and resources. While some cities and departments are implementing new roles and responsibilities, other fire departments have yet to fully adapt. Although they likely dealt with changes in funding and staffing, official regulations are slow to catch up.

What do you think: are the duties of fire chief changing per the natural order of things, or are they evolving too slowly? What kinds of additional training would you equip fire departments with?

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