Home Preparedness Quantification versus Qualification in the Fire Service

Quantification versus Qualification in the Fire Service

Start an Emergency & Disaster Management Degree at American Military University.

By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

Many changes have occurred over the past two decades of my existence in the fire service, mainly the movement to a business-type structure and a “numbers game” environment. Over time, municipal administrators became educated to the graduate level and the public saw a similar increase in their median education levels. Now, both groups expect that the fire service should run more like a business and have many quantifiable measures.

Within the fire service, however, this expectation has been the focus of many contentious kitchen table debates in the firehouse. Many fire service personnel believe that the need to quantify everything makes us focus on the wrong items and be less competent responders.

Quantification Systems Used in the Fire Service

Over the years, there have been quantification systems related to fire protection, fire departments, firefighters and fire officers. When I started, the Insurance Services Organization (ISO) was the grade for a fire department. Although the fire department was only 50% of the total credit for the rating, with alarm processing and water supply making up the other 50%, this was the benchmark for fire departments.

Since then, the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) has developed an accreditation model and a credentialing model. These two models and programs look directly at fire departments and supporting organizations that allow fire departments to operate in the prevention, planning, response and recovery phases. The credentialing model examines the qualification of fire officers, in order to establish a benchmark in which an officer can be credentialed.

Both of these programs use many quantitative methods to measure a plethora of data points, which determine the ability to provide quality service to the public. Without these programs, we would still rely on a system that only awarded 50% to the fire department and barely looked at individuals beyond their initial certification and the clock hours they counted towards training each year.

Benefits of Quantification

One of the biggest benefits of the quantification programs and models is that they can truly prove that tax dollars are being spent usefully. Those funds are going towards items and programs that show a true increase in service in a particular area. They also indicate how those changes and expenditures translate to overall improvement in the fire department.

For instance, one of the biggest expenses in the fire service is personnel. While many internal fire service employees understand the importance of more personnel, many who are external to our profession see many dollars a day just “sitting around.”

Because all of our quantification systems now include community risk reduction as a part of their model, the fire chief is easily able to show how these personnel reduce the risk of fires and the amount of property without fire losses during the year. In addition, we can now encompass models that show how the fire service contributed to the overall economic well-being of the community, because there were no disruptions caused by fires or other catastrophes.

A second benefit of quantification is that the fire service now has more defined ways to measure fire officers and firefighters, aside from clock hours and their initial certifications. Over the years, we have realized that well-rounded officers who have training, education, experience and continuing education in many areas of the fire department equate to a successful fire officer.

While we know the benefits of teaching someone complex mathematics and human resources as they ascend to the officer ranks, the average citizen often wonders, even today, why you would need education to be a fire chief. But when you explain to local citizens that a fire chief is the CEO of a multi-million-dollar operation with over 1,000 employees and the money being spent is partly theirs, the average citizen then views the fire chief job much differently.

There Is Still a Need for Qualification

While we have found many benefits to quantification, there are many keys to organizational success in regard to qualification. The first and most important are the people in the organization.

While the quantification system may award points for a strategic plan, it does not measure the dedication that department employees provide daily. Similarly, the quantification system may require a quality improvement program, but does not provide credit for the level of care and compassion that fire service employees show to citizens and their ability to go above and beyond for the community.

We have all seen articles where a person has a heart attack. The engine company responding to that person may finish mowing the victim's grass after the ambulance transports that person to the hospital. Although a quantification report won't provide find credit for their action, that compassion wins the trust and admiration of the community more than any dollar loss figure.

Last, but not least, is the fire service personnel’s dedication to excellence and love of the job. These two items can often be the biggest difference in organizational success. If you have people who will train until they fail and continually look for ways to make themselves, their crew and the organization better, you will have a much more successful fire department than a crew who stands on the bay floor and compares their advanced degrees.

Quantification and Qualification Are Worthwhile, But Hiring the Right People Is Best

The increase in fire service quantification and qualification provides many ways to show the community and ourselves how we currently operate, as well as the methods we use to improve ourselves. This improvement benefits the community through increased levels of service. However, we must not forget the huge benefits to hiring the right people, treating them right and recognizing them for their dedication to the best profession in the world.

Start an Emergency & Disaster Management Degree at American Military University.

Randall Hanifen Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.