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Author’s Opinion: Leadership Must Embrace Major Changes in the Fire Service for the Good of Its Future

by  Public Safety Group     Dec 20, 2022
bruegman photo

Things have changed significantly since the first fire brigade in the United States was established by Benjamin Franklin in 1736. As noted author, lecturer, podcast host, and retired fire chief Randy R. Bruegman tells it, the modern fire service looks nothing like it did then, but the biggest changes are yet to come.

In a wide-ranging interview in advance of his new book, Advanced Fire and Emergency Services Administration, Second Edition, Bruegman, who has worked in the fire service for over 40 years, discussed his vision for a markedly different fire service than the one of today. He talked about the need for further inclusivity in its ranks, an understanding that technology will play a bigger role, and the idea that leadership must be open to embracing an entirely different deployment package that includes fire suppression units working alongside nurse practitioners and behavioral health specialists.

Watch the interview and read the Q&A below to learn more about Bruegman’s views on how leadership needs to adapt to a changing fire service in a rapidly changing world.

Q: How do you see the fire service changing in the not-so-distant future?

Bruegman: Over the next three decades we’re going to see some significant changes… the technology applications that are already emerging today will change the very way we respond, and how we use technology to improve the safety of our firefighters on the scene is going to be significant. There will be a day in the next 15 years where we’re going to see a fire truck pull up—an electric fire truck—and there will be robotics launched from that fire truck that will minimize the workload for the firefighters that are riding on that piece of equipment.

As we move into the future, I think we will see a finessed deployment package. We’ll have a core of suppression units—fire and ladder companies—but we’re also going to see the introduction of behavioral health specialists, social service workers, and advanced providers such as nurse practitioners in the field. We’re already seeing that. I think we are going to see a very hybrid system by which we are no longer fire and emergency service, but we are a public health agency—coordinating many aspects of safety under our umbrella. Our system is going to look different. It’ll have to.

Q: Do people have the wrong opinion of what it means to join the fire service today?

Bruegman:  I’ve often said a firefighter’s job is a blue-collar job that requires a Ph.D. You’re going on situations where it really is very hard hands-on work, but the skillset and the level of information our firefighters and first responders have to deal with today really require a Ph.D. level of education.

Q: The mental health of fire professionals has taken on new importance. Why now?

Bruegman: I think the reality is the job is much different today. When I started (in the 1980s) as a firefighter and EMT we may have had one, two, or three traumatic calls in a month. Our firefighters and paramedics today are seeing sometimes two to three traumatic events in a day.

Their call volume has increased, but the type of calls—the violence-related calls and drug overdoses—are daily in some fire companies. And it’s taking its toll.

Departments are really stepping up with behavioral health support mechanisms in place, but I think our shift work is really killing our firefighters. We have to look at giving them a realistic workload, per day, so that they’re not up 24 hours running 30 or 35 calls. It’s not healthy. If you’re in a busy department, that’s just an unhealthy situation. We need to step up and address that as leaders in the fire service and realize we’re part of the problem. Just the way we design this system is part of the problem.

Q: What needs to happen to make the fire service a more diverse and inclusive workforce?

Bruegman: One of the best ways to diversify our workforce quickly is to diversify our deployment package. We built everything around big strong people that can do this heavy lifting. Well, the fire responses we go on that require the type of thing that we test for today are about four to five percent of our total call volume. The best way to diversify your workforce is to diversify how you’re deploying your resources.

So if you use advanced providers—behavioral health specialists, and social service workers—that gives you an entirely new arena of people to hire from and opens up the opportunity for them to be part of your system. I think that’s what we’re going to see more and more of in the future. I’m hoping that organizations start to build that into their strategic initiative and planning process.

Q: How would you encourage more women to want to work in the fire service?

Bruegman: I think only about four-and-a-half to five percent of the workforce in fire and emergency services is made up of females. We have a ways to go. I think our testing process has been designed in the past to eliminate females, and I think we have to get realistic about what we’re asking people to do.

One of the things that has been troubling to me from an entry-level standpoint and testing process is we test at a very, very high level when you enter the fire service, but we never test people once they’re on the job annually to make sure they can still do their job. There’s a baseline level of performance that we should probably be measuring as you get older. I know there’s a lot of debate about that, but the fact of the matter is I think our testing process on the front end is so difficult because we want the biggest and the strongest and I think that’s been a barrier to some females. I think we need to take a hard look at that.

If we think our model of what we’re doing today is going to work in a decade, 15 years from now, 30 years from now…I think we’re totally mistaken. The fact of the matter is with technology our fires should decrease; our risk should decrease. From a fire chief’s standpoint all too often we look too often at the next 12 months in a budget cycle, or the next five years from a strategic cycle, but one of the shifts we need to do organizationally is ask, “What is it going to look like 15 to 20 years from now, and what do we need to do organizationally to begin to create the culture to be sustainable 15 to 20 years from now." Because if we think we’re going to do the same thing 15 to 20 years from now like we’re doing today, it’s not going to happen.

Advanced Fire and Emergency Services, Second Edition, is available now through Public Safety Group.

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Author’s Opinion: Leadership Must Embrace Major Changes in the Fire Service for the Good of Its Future

by  Public Safety Group     Dec 20, 2022
bruegman photo

Things have changed significantly since the first fire brigade in the United States was established by Benjamin Franklin in 1736. As noted author, lecturer, podcast host, and retired fire chief Randy R. Bruegman tells it, the modern fire service looks nothing like it did then, but the biggest changes are yet to come.

In a wide-ranging interview in advance of his new book, Advanced Fire and Emergency Services Administration, Second Edition, Bruegman, who has worked in the fire service for over 40 years, discussed his vision for a markedly different fire service than the one of today. He talked about the need for further inclusivity in its ranks, an understanding that technology will play a bigger role, and the idea that leadership must be open to embracing an entirely different deployment package that includes fire suppression units working alongside nurse practitioners and behavioral health specialists.

Watch the interview and read the Q&A below to learn more about Bruegman’s views on how leadership needs to adapt to a changing fire service in a rapidly changing world.

Q: How do you see the fire service changing in the not-so-distant future?

Bruegman: Over the next three decades we’re going to see some significant changes… the technology applications that are already emerging today will change the very way we respond, and how we use technology to improve the safety of our firefighters on the scene is going to be significant. There will be a day in the next 15 years where we’re going to see a fire truck pull up—an electric fire truck—and there will be robotics launched from that fire truck that will minimize the workload for the firefighters that are riding on that piece of equipment.

As we move into the future, I think we will see a finessed deployment package. We’ll have a core of suppression units—fire and ladder companies—but we’re also going to see the introduction of behavioral health specialists, social service workers, and advanced providers such as nurse practitioners in the field. We’re already seeing that. I think we are going to see a very hybrid system by which we are no longer fire and emergency service, but we are a public health agency—coordinating many aspects of safety under our umbrella. Our system is going to look different. It’ll have to.

Q: Do people have the wrong opinion of what it means to join the fire service today?

Bruegman:  I’ve often said a firefighter’s job is a blue-collar job that requires a Ph.D. You’re going on situations where it really is very hard hands-on work, but the skillset and the level of information our firefighters and first responders have to deal with today really require a Ph.D. level of education.

Q: The mental health of fire professionals has taken on new importance. Why now?

Bruegman: I think the reality is the job is much different today. When I started (in the 1980s) as a firefighter and EMT we may have had one, two, or three traumatic calls in a month. Our firefighters and paramedics today are seeing sometimes two to three traumatic events in a day.

Their call volume has increased, but the type of calls—the violence-related calls and drug overdoses—are daily in some fire companies. And it’s taking its toll.

Departments are really stepping up with behavioral health support mechanisms in place, but I think our shift work is really killing our firefighters. We have to look at giving them a realistic workload, per day, so that they’re not up 24 hours running 30 or 35 calls. It’s not healthy. If you’re in a busy department, that’s just an unhealthy situation. We need to step up and address that as leaders in the fire service and realize we’re part of the problem. Just the way we design this system is part of the problem.

Q: What needs to happen to make the fire service a more diverse and inclusive workforce?

Bruegman: One of the best ways to diversify our workforce quickly is to diversify our deployment package. We built everything around big strong people that can do this heavy lifting. Well, the fire responses we go on that require the type of thing that we test for today are about four to five percent of our total call volume. The best way to diversify your workforce is to diversify how you’re deploying your resources.

So if you use advanced providers—behavioral health specialists, and social service workers—that gives you an entirely new arena of people to hire from and opens up the opportunity for them to be part of your system. I think that’s what we’re going to see more and more of in the future. I’m hoping that organizations start to build that into their strategic initiative and planning process.

Q: How would you encourage more women to want to work in the fire service?

Bruegman: I think only about four-and-a-half to five percent of the workforce in fire and emergency services is made up of females. We have a ways to go. I think our testing process has been designed in the past to eliminate females, and I think we have to get realistic about what we’re asking people to do.

One of the things that has been troubling to me from an entry-level standpoint and testing process is we test at a very, very high level when you enter the fire service, but we never test people once they’re on the job annually to make sure they can still do their job. There’s a baseline level of performance that we should probably be measuring as you get older. I know there’s a lot of debate about that, but the fact of the matter is I think our testing process on the front end is so difficult because we want the biggest and the strongest and I think that’s been a barrier to some females. I think we need to take a hard look at that.

If we think our model of what we’re doing today is going to work in a decade, 15 years from now, 30 years from now…I think we’re totally mistaken. The fact of the matter is with technology our fires should decrease; our risk should decrease. From a fire chief’s standpoint all too often we look too often at the next 12 months in a budget cycle, or the next five years from a strategic cycle, but one of the shifts we need to do organizationally is ask, “What is it going to look like 15 to 20 years from now, and what do we need to do organizationally to begin to create the culture to be sustainable 15 to 20 years from now." Because if we think we’re going to do the same thing 15 to 20 years from now like we’re doing today, it’s not going to happen.

Advanced Fire and Emergency Services, Second Edition, is available now through Public Safety Group.

Read more:

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