(Appeared in print as "Create Certainty in an Uncertain World")
Notable self-improvement coach Tony Robbins said that comfort comes from certainty, which is one of the six human needs. We all want the comfort that comes from the certainty of the lights going on when we flip the switch or the car starting when we turn the key — even though we know there is no absolute certainty that the car will start every time. That’s why someone invented jumper cables.
Robbins also describes uncertainty as the second human need. This may sound like a paradox. But I think we can all agree that if everything was an absolute certainty, it would create a pretty boring life. We need that variety in our world to feel alive or needed.
Balance is critical. As a fire chief, I like those days when everything goes as planned. However, uncertainty, or those problems that come up every day in the fire and emergency service, is one reason why we have fire chiefs.
The approaching “fiscal cliff” — the conundrum that the U.S. government is facing when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect — creates some real uncertainty in our lives and an opportunity to practice our balancing act.
Several existing federal income tax cuts and certain tax breaks for businesses will end at midnight on Dec. 31. At approximately the same time, the spending cuts agreed upon as part of the debt-ceiling deal of 2011 will begin to go into effect, and many government programs will see deep, automatic cuts.
The most likely outcome is a stop-gap measure that will delay a more permanent policy change until 2013 or later, creating even more uncertainty for us.
If our leaders are unable to come to an agreement and the tax increases and spending cuts do go into effect, the impact on the economy could be dramatic either for the better, the worse or some combination of both. For example, higher taxes along with the spending cuts may hurt, but will likely reduce the federal deficit. In the short-term, the changes may cause a decrease in the gross domestic product, but also may contribute to long-term economic growth.
The only thing for certain is more uncertainly. After all this, I know we could use a little more certainty in our lives as fire chiefs, so we’ll need to create it ourselves by finding new ways to continue providing the best all-hazards service to our public.
Things are definitely different today than they were 20 or 30 years ago — some of which is the result of our environment — like rising EMS calls, changes to the built environment, and increasing costs of business — and some of which is the result of our innovation and hard work — like the decrease in the number of fires, the adoption of residential sprinkler codes, improvements in smoke alarm technology, and enhanced safety in firefighting equipment.
These are exciting times which present us with some great opportunities to change the way we do business in a good way. Our success in the past proves that we can get through uncertain times if we work together, share our ideas, and are willing to break some of those out-dated, costly, and unsafe practices of the fire service.
I am hopeful that the year ahead holds more positive news about the U.S. federal budget, that all of our nation’s government leaders continue to be supportive of the fire and emergency service, and that the fire and emergency service community comes together to meet uncertainty head-on.