(Appeared in print as "A Different Perspective on More of the Same")
I recently returned from Sydney where I attended the second annual Global Fire Service Leadership Summit. Representatives from fire chiefs’ associations in Australia, Canada, Tasmania, the U.K. and U.S. gathered for some great dialogue and in-depth discussions on some of the more common issues affecting the global fire service.
It always amazes me how different we are — yet how much we have in common. For example, we all seem to be fighting for influence both in the political realm and within our communities. Much of that fight stems from continuing budget woes. Even Australia and Canada — which have not experienced the same degree of financial crisis as have the U.S. and the U.K. — share the a common thread of trying to keep up with community and political expectations of the fire service.
Such conversations really highlighted the different perspectives on common threads. For example, EMS is a large part of the discussion on the future of the U.S. fire service, although fire-based EMS is not as common in other parts of the world. The global fire service contends with preserving tradition while embracing modern ideas and innovations, stepping up as all-hazards emergency-service providers, and demonstrating a can-do attitude regardless of budget and other constraints.
All the participants agreed that a focus on prevention and risk-reduction is critical for both responders and those whom they protect as we move forward. We spoke a good deal about the shared need to reduce nuisance fire alarms, expand residential-sprinkler code initiatives, and improve firefighter safety. As one chief put it, the only way to eliminate completely the risk to our personnel is to eliminate the fire service. That is not an option, so we must all practice good risk management and work together to identify model practices and behaviors.
All agreed that fire-service relevance will require organizations to remain connected and nimble. Long-range planning is difficult in this fast-moving world, so we need to be moving forward rather than spending time in the weeds planning. Consider what the world looked like 10 years ago: Is there any way we could have imagined the technological tools and issues we have today? Are we so invested in what we’re doing now that we don’t look outside the norms and we miss obvious issues? The IAFC will be looking to incorporate some of this discussion, when it begins its biannual strategic planning process in January.
At the end of the two-day summit, we exchanged many ideas, discussed many topics, and walked away re-energized. When you bring together fire chief associations from around the world to network and share successes, solutions, challenges, and future directions, it leads to success. We agreed to have a third meeting in 2013 to continue our goal of having a better understanding of issues that face the fire service around the globe. Together, we will be stronger and continue to learn from our peers around the world.