In the past I've refrained from trying to tempt or provoke readers by offering the startling conclusions of my work in an introduction. I've done so under the assumption that these conclusions are so contrary to popular opinion that they're more likely to drive readers away rather than engage them. I'm going to mix it up, and list a few of these so that the reader can decide if this group and blog might be worth joining or following, if only to prove me wrong. Here goes.
From evidence, analysis, and well-established principle I believe the following outlandish statements to be true:
1. That far from under-appreciated, under-manned, under-equipped, and under-funded, the US Fire Service is bloated by idle capital and grossly over-insured. These effects contribute greatly to our casualty rate and discourage the criticism needed for institutional learning and change.
2. That our organizational structure is a 19th century relic, and this too contributes to our excess losses in several ways.
3. That the quality and structure of our professional education system is lacking, and undercut by a bias against formal education. The false-positive hires and free-riding that result are massive problems, but well within our power to correct. The same is true of our misunderstanding of both risk and management, and our subsequent deficiency in risk management.
4. That institutional discrimination plagues the fire service in many ways, but this subject is taboo: no one wants to consider it, much less talk about it, for strong economic reasons.
5. That firefighting is an inherently athletic profession, and until we start treating firefighters like paid athletes -- including measuring and mandating minimum fitness and performance levels and rewarding superior ones, health-related death and injury rates will not improve.
6. That to improve service quality and workplace safety we must start acting on the idea that fire burns the same way everywhere, set national standards, create beneficial incentives by shifting costs to their appropriate bearers, flatten organizational structure, open internal labor markets, and much more.
That ought to give you a rough idea of some of the ground we're about to cover. I hope you'll hang with me. I know this is radical. I promised the Freakonomics of the fire service, and that's what I'm delivering. It's the Moneyball approach, for sure. Understand that I didn't set out to uncover this stuff, that I've sat on it for years, that it took me time to accept, and that I wouldn't have if the reasons for doing so weren't good. I'm sure sharing this stuff won't make me any friends, but friends I've got. It's change we need if we're going to start saving firefighter lives. That's what I set out to do. I just came up with some unsettling answers that defy conventional wisdom and will likely alienate all the major stakeholders in the game. So it goes.
This stuff may look difficult, but I'll make it as easy as I can. Having pointed out some of the hazards, next we'll look at the economics behind these crazy assertions. This will give us the tools we'll need tackle the Everyman Effect and the Hero Tournament it drives. After that we can start investigating some 21st century solutions. It's time we stopped being at the bottom of the industrialized world in fire loss. To do that, we've got to change how we do business. That's what this group and blog is about. Hope you'll join me.
When there's no wind, row.