The report was based on a series of meetings with 50 representatives from fire departments, emergency management agencies, and emergency medical services affected by the 2011 tornado outbreak. It notes that fire departments weren’t necessarily enthusiastic about the additional responsibilities.
Nevertheless, “while pressing the point that most were not prepared to do this kind of work and did not have the resources or training to handle the responsibility, in fact, every agency plans to continue in that role,” the report states.
Georgia Fire Academy Director David M. Wall says that firefighters accept that their communities already see them as de facto agencies of last resort, even if departments don’t train that way.
“When an issue arises of adults finding something in their life out of control, if it is not a crime or a pothole, they send the fire department,” he says. “And the fire department, regardless of budget cuts or volunteer roster size, will respond.”
Wall believes most fire departments are primed to take on the additional responsibilities associated with the agency-of-last-resort concept given that fire departments have already adopted an all-hazards approach to disasters and emergencies. That trend had been ongoing for the past few decades, but it went into overdrive after 9-11 raised the threat level.
Despite fire officials’ trepidations, there is at least one advantage to this mission creep: with the number and severity of most fire categories dropping, there is a risk of budgets being questioned and cut, says Lawrence, but the fire service will remain essential to public safety if its mission expands to accommodate this agency-of-last-resort concept.