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21st Century Fire and Emergency Services Report

By Chief John M. Buckman III (Retired)

The Center for Public Safety Excellence in collaboration with the International City/County  Management Association, recently released a report on the expected future challenges for the fire and emergency services organizations.

The future delivery of fire and medical services is very cloudy at this time. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant organizational, operational, security and financial issues to  local, regional, state, and federal governments. The report lists different area  that local, regional, state, and the federal government need to evaluate, and  develop solutions, as part of their strategic planning in respect to how their organization plans to address the issues outlined in the report. Change in this turbulent world is a necessity. Leaders should address the issues that require change before the turbulence demands rapid and unplanned changes. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken us out of our comfort zone. The way it was, is not the way it is and it is not the way it will be in the future. Innovative thinking in conjunction with community stakeholders can help to define the future role of the fire department.

The report predicts the following issues will impact our ability to sustain and enhance our level of service delivery.

  • Expected future challenges:
  • An increase in the numbers and/or types of calls for service
  • An increase in costs to provide services, with  limited or declining financial resources.
  • Additional health, safety, and wellness concerns for fire service personnel
  • A lack of cultural and gender diversity among fire service personnel
  • Aging or costly equipment and facilities
  • A lack of training in new approaches, techniques, technology.
  • The need to revamp our educational delivery system to keep up with the rapid changes occurring.
  • An inability to adopt new technologies

Fire Chiefs, Career Firefighters, Volunteer Firefighters, Labor Organizations, Community Leaders and Elected Officials should begin collaboration efforts to insure the level of service delivery today is sustained and is delivering the types of services the community needs, with a recognition that those needs will continue to shift through this Century.

The fire service in my opinion must begin an aggressive initiative to improve our ability to prove our value to the citizens. Increasing the use of validated data based upon an increased effort in the collection of, accuracy and relevance. The fire service has relied for too long a period of time that we are the ones in the white hat who show up to save the day based upon an emotional response instead of a response based upon facts. There will have to be an increase in the level and availability of education and training available to firefighters, officers, and chiefs.

Local fire departments will need to examine the community risks and how those risks can be reduced.

Local communities will expect more from their firefighters and their firefighters will expect more from the community. Health and wellness risks to firefighters today are extremely high. Local communities will need to develop programs that are designed to reduce risk to the health and wellness of firefighters as well as the services available to firefighters who have contracted a specific illness related to the job. These health and wellness risks are consistent for both volunteer and career firefighters.

The report identifies 8 critical issues that demand attention if the fire and emergency services is to thrive in the future:

1. Re-identification of the fire and emergency services

2. Culture of the profession

3. The robust use of data

4. Health and wellness threats

5. Opportunities for partnerships

6. Sustainability challenges

7. Technology advancements and adoption

8. Inclusiveness of the fire and emergency services

The report is available at