Firefighters look at a mobile devices, something more and more common in the fire service.
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April 25, 2019
    Article highlights
  • The need for technology.
  • Five tips for budgeting for technology.

Fire departments face a barrage of financial challenges, including increased public scrutiny, station closings, funding compromises, and proposed firefighter layoffs.

Even though fire departments provide critical services to the community’s health and safety, they are not immune from city budget cuts.

While many people take the stance that public safety should be exempt from city budget cuts, today’s fire departments increasingly face slashed funds. They are constantly being asked to do more with less, such as partnering with other departments to maintain services and cut costs.

And the budgeting situation is not going to get any easier, especially in the fire service where the cost to purchase and operate equipment remains high.

Personnel, Equipment, and Training

Three key elements – personnel, equipment, and training – will always (and should always) top the list in a fire department budget.

Priority funding here means more than just warm bodies. Beyond salary, it means spending community dollars on the essentials that fire service personnel need to safely and effectively do their jobs.

At a base level, fire departments should also allocate funding for annual physicals to ensure all firefighters are healthy before they even leave the station to respond to an emergency. Priority funding also means providing personnel with compliant PPE so they can stay safe while performing their duties, thus limiting both short- and long-term risks.

Finally, funding training ensures that firefighters meet NFPA standards and access specialized programs, such as mutual aid to assist neighboring departments or technical rescue. All of these components need to be properly funded to prepare firefighters and keep them, and the community, safe.

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The Need for Technology

Innovative technology plays an important role in fire service, so you cannot rely on the same methods and technologies as you did even 10 or 20 years ago.

Thriving fire departments need to adapt and utilize the latest tools and technology to fight fires in the 21st century. But the only way to do this is with proper funding. Not only do you need to purchase the equipment, but you need to train your members and work the tools into your operations, all of which takes time.

When it comes to lives on the line, you really can’t afford not to consider making technology a priority in your fire department budget. Think about the difference it would make at a fire scene if firefighters could tap into the power of drones and personnel location tracking. And consider the impact of mobile access in the field when firefighters need to instantly retrieve situational protocol or helpful apps that calculate pump pressure or identify drugs.

More importantly, though, think about the consequences of not properly funding your technology needs. You will be left behind using outdated tools as other departments stay current with cutting-edge technology. Your department will be less effective as you rely on old-school technology not equipped to handle modern-day threats. And you might even lose out on younger recruits who expect technology to be integrated into your fire department.

Firefighters use in-truck computers to view crucial policy content.

5 Tips for Budgeting for Technology

When it comes to fire department funding, consider these ideas to make sure you have the technology dollars you need.

1. Focus on the value to the department

When requesting any budget item, it’s always good to be able to show the return on the investment, or at least, the potential consequences of not getting the budget request. Explain how the lack of current technology affects your fire department, your personnel, and your community, citing statistics whenever possible.

For example, share how many fewer calls you can respond to or how this will impact the safety of fire personnel. And tie the lack of technology to an increase in other related costs like healthcare or insurance.

Demonstrating your true technology need – and clearly showing the value it brings – is especially important for technology requests, where the impact may not be as immediately felt as with the other PET areas.

It helps to conduct some research, too, showing overall budget trends and comparisons to other departments of similar size or in similar communities. Doing so can help show city leaders where your department lags. Plus, it can provide some great visuals (via charts and graphs) to more easily convey your points at a glance.

2. Tie the technology to a specific problem

It is much easier to deny a fire department budget request when there is no context for why it is important. Ditto if a budget request is something vague, like “improved performance” or “better reporting.” However, if you can tie your request to a specific problem or issue in the community, that helps the city leaders put it into context.

For example, if the problem is X, and the technology will help you reduce X by a certain amount each year or month or week, that is an easier sell.

Case in point – with the opioid epidemic hitting every U.S. community, it impacts the volume and types of calls firefighters respond to and boosts the dangers they encounter at the emergency scene, both of which stretch already thin resources.

But if you give emergency personnel mobile access to up-to-date information, risks, and tactics (such as proper decontamination protocols, medical orders, and best practices when administering Narcan), you can significantly reduce risk.

Citing local statistics on opioid-related fire services calls and showing how technology can help stem the tide will provide the type of concrete funding justification you need.

3. Know your city’s budgeting process

Do you understand the basics of your city’s budgeting process? If not, make it your job to find it out. When does the council meet? Who is the key individual or group you need to convince? Who are your advocates and what do they care about?

Gone are the days when you can expect everything you ask for to be approved. Instead, educate yourself so you can properly prepare and defend your technology request.

You need to convince your city’s leaders that you won’t be wasting taxpayer dollars, so be prepared to justify your technology needs. The more you know about the process (and decision-makers involved), the better you can tailor your fire department funding request.

Outside view of a fire station.

4. Look for technology grants

Grants offer a terrific avenue to extend your fire department budget, whether you need to purchase tablets, buy a cloud-based solution, or fund technology training. The downside? Grants require a lot of work up front, and typically some tracking and reporting afterward.

Many fire departments don’t see the value in pursuing grants because of all the legwork involved. Other fire departments largely rely on grants to make ends meet. But if you are having trouble getting a key piece of technology funded, it is worth investigating if a grant exists that could help jumpstart your efforts.

5. Think outside of the box

While going through usual funding channels is a given, don’t rely completely on city budgets to bring much-needed technology to your fire department. Diversify your funding stream. Think about other means within your community, through your associations, or with your risk pool to obtain technology.

A great place to start for your software needs? Tap your city’s IT department. An existing solution might already be available to you. Or you might discover that you can get discounts on technology by working with the city’s IT department.

Risk pools will also offer discounts on software that will help reduce the risks associated with public safety. And finally, your state chief’s association or fire department association might have connections or partnerships with technology providers.

Another option? Ask around to learn about what technology other departments use. If you are considering a cloud-based technology solution like PowerDMS, for example, you might find that your city is already using it over in your police department.

You could simply ask your IT department to see what it would take to increase the number of users to include your fire department. On the flip side, ask what technology other departments would like to use. If you discover a shared solution that you both need, you can coordinate purchasing multiple licenses to the same resource.

Today’s threats and risks are rapidly changing, making it necessary to fund technology that keeps your firefighters informed, up-to-date, and ready to respond. While fire department finances will continue to be stretched thin, these tips can help you budget for the technology you need to fight modern-day threats with cutting-edge solutions.

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