Tag Archives: fire chief

Questions to Ask When Hiring a New Fire Chief

By Dom Nozzi

What sorts of questions should be asked of candidates who are seeking to become the new fire chief in your community?

Despite the conventional wisdom, it is not asking whether the candidate is familiar with the latest fire trucks. Or whether the candidate is courageous in putting out fires.

No, the most essential questions center around whether the candidate has a philosophy that centers around the broader question of life safety, rather than the much more narrow question of fire safety.

As shown by a study done by Peter Swift, widening roads (or keeping existing roads excessively wide) is often justified to promote fire safety, because it is claimed that wider roads reduce fire truck response times. But the Swift study conclusively showed that such wider roads result in less overall public safety, because the increases in injuries and deaths due to wider roads far exceeds the reduction in injuries and deaths due to faster response times. A key for public safety, then, is to not narrowly focus on a subcategory of safety (in this case, fire safety), but to instead aim to improve overall life safety.

Given this, the most important questions that a community should ask fire chief candidates would be:

1. What are your thoughts about reducing the size of fire trucks?

This question is crucial because the now gargantuan size of trucks used in most cities means that our fire chief, perhaps more so than the traffic engineer, isprofoundly dictating — every time she or he decides to purchase a big truck — that our neighborhood and arterial streets will be monstrous in width in order to “safely” allow passage by the big trucks at high velocities.admin-ajax (5)

The (unintended?) result is more dangerous, high-speed community streets filled with reckless, inattentive drivers, and lower neighborhood quality of life. Why? Because motorists tend to drive at the highest speeds that can be driven while feeling safe and comfortable. And when streets are over-designed for excessive widths and other geometries, motorists are enabled to drive a higher speeds (as well as driving more inattentively).

2. What are your thoughts about reducing a bloated fire department budget?

A bloated department budget sub-optimizes the services of that department and starves other important community services such as recreation, social services, environmental protection, and street design.

3. What are your thoughts about minimizing the use of emergency vehicle sirens?

In nearly all cities, emergency vehicle sirens are out of control. Sirens are used excessively because of irrational fear of crashes with cars, a hysterical fear of lawsuits, and the endless drive to reduce vehicle response times, not to mention the psychological benefits of importance, excitement and power that some firemen feel when they sound the fire horns as much as possible. Given these factors over the course of the past century, excessive siren use escalates continuously in a never-ending race to have the loudest and most frequently used fire sirens.

Those of us who have experience living in a town center are more exposed than others to the jangled nerves associated with the 24/7 wailing of sirens, helicopters, flashing emergency lights, and racing emergency vehicles that bombard most all town centers. The experience of living in a town center, due to the out of control emergency vehicle problem, is one of feeling like you are living in a war zone. Due to the unpleasantness of such a state of affairs, many throw up their hands and flee to the expected peace and quiet of the suburbs, thereby undermining extremely important community objectives regarding the fight against sprawl. If communities (justifiably) strive to encourage more downtown residential development, why are we chasing folks out of downtown by creating a sleep depriving, frenzied, stressed ambience downtown?

True leadership means insisting that fire chiefs abide by over-arching community objectives such as public safety and quality of life. For fire chiefs, that means that the person a community hires must be someone who enthusiastically supports the need for smaller fire trucks, a more modest fire department budget, and a significant reduction in siren use.

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Who a Community Hires as a New Fire Chief is Crucial to Safety and Quality of Life

By Dom Nozzi

Your community needs to hire a new fire chief.

I’ve given a bit of thought to what sorts of questions should be asked of applicants to fill that vacancy.

And I realized that this hire is not just a simple matter of hiring someone who is well-equipped in knowing how to quickly put out fires.

No, it goes far beyond that, in terms of implications for overall safety in your community (not just the narrow subset of fire safety), and significant implications for overall quality of life. Hire the wrong fire chief, and your community can be in serious danger of setting a course for much worse overall community safety and much worse quality of life, even if your fire chief is skilled in putting out fires.

The following simple questions are crucial in determining whether your new chief will promote overall safety and quality of life, or worsen it.

  1. What are your thoughts about reducing the size of fire trucks? The now gargantuan and growing size of trucks used in cities all over the nation means that our fire chief, perhaps more so than the traffic engineer, is profoundly dictating — every time she or he decides to purchase a big fire truck — that our neighborhood and arterial streets will be monstrous in width in order to “safely” allow passage by the big hook and ladder trucks. The result is more dangerous, high-speed community streets filled with reckless, inattentive drivers, and lower neighborhood quality of life. Recent studies (the Swift study in Longmont CO, for example) have found that when a city overemphasizes fire safety to the point of excessively enlarging street and intersection Big Firetruckdimensions (to reduce fire truck response times), the number of injuries and deaths caused by the increased motor vehicle speeding and inattentiveness (induced by the enlarged roadway/intersection dimensions) far exceeds the injuries and deaths averted by faster fire truck response times. The result is that life safety declines, even if the subset of fire safety may improve slightly. Overall community safety therefore declines. Despite having a few fires are put out more quickly.
  2. What are your thoughts about reducing a bloated fire department budget? (fire department budgets throughout the nation are terribly bloated, and a bloated department budget sub-optimizes the services of that department and starves important services such as health, social services, housing and street maintenance/design).
  3. What are your thoughts about minimizing the use of emergency vehicle sirens? (I’ve been told by more than one person that the emergency service sirens in the small Florida city I formerly lived in are out of control — even compared to major cities such as DC. This problem is found in an enormous number of cities throughout the nation, as the hyper-concern for perfect (and unachievable) public safety fuels a siren “arms race” of ever louder sirens, in the name of safety. This growing noise pollution problem confirmed my own “jangled nerves” experience of living in a town center of a town that did not have the leadership to stand up to the fire chief and demand that quality of life considerations, at some point, start to trump the seemingly endless (and hopeless) quest for more and more “safety.” (there IS such a thing as too much emphasis being placed on “safety”). While living in that Florida city – a city that lacked the leadership to stand up to the “babies are dying in burning buildings” hysterics of the fire department – I was being tormented by what amounted to nearly 24/7 siren wailing. In a city that justifiably strove to encourage more town residential development, why were we chasing folks out of the town center by creating a “war zone” ambience there?

These are, in my humble opinion, the three most crucial questions that should be asked of candidates for the fire chief position. It is not just about putting out fires…

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