Wash. chief: Fire departments must change or face extinction

Photo Jamie Thompson
Chief Daniels speaks to an audience at FRI on Friday 09/27/2010.

CHICAGO Fire departments face extinction if they refuse to adapt and move with the times, a session at Fire-Rescue International in Chicago was told Friday.

"If you're an industry that does not progress, does not evolve, it will become extinct," Chief David Daniels told the audience.

"Tyrannosaurus Rex were big operators back in the day. There's no more Tyrannosaurus Rex around. Alligators figured it out and are still here we have got to be able to adapt."

Chief Daniels, who is chief/CEO of the Woodinville, Wash., Fire and Life Safety District, said with the number of fires dropping every year, fire suppression is "not a growth industry."

He said departments need to expand the services they offer and roles they fill to remain relevant.

During the session, Chief Daniels focused on the characteristics that aspiring chief officers need to both secure top jobs and, in turn, secure the longevity of their department.

Chiefs and departments need to focus on the needs of the "customer," he said.

"It's the customer who decides whether or not we are successful," he said. "We can be high-fiving about how great our department is, but the community can think we are a big bunch of doo doo.

"If you don't keep in touch, don't communicate with them, we won't even know."

Chief Daniels said in many respects, if the fire service were a business, some departments would be out of business by now.

"We keep giving people the same thing year after year after year," he said.

"We say 'This is the way we do it.' It would be like selling hoover bags house-to-house when the Internet is available."

The session was told there is a need for emergency services in the United States and across the world that will never go away.

"I do have some questions of whether or not the need for fire departments will continue to exist," Chief Daniels said.

For aspiring chief officers, Chief Daniels said customers nowadays expect them to be a range of things: a top firefighter, a politician, a public manager, a chief executive and an incident commander.

"I'd argue that a fire chief and an incident commander are very similar," Chief Daniels said.

"An incident commander should always be strategic and only be tactical or task-level focused when they have to."
By Jamie Thompson
FireRescue1 Senior Editor

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