I chose the title for this article for a very specific reason: The fire service doesn’t hire dummies, and our personnel already understand more than we sometimes give them credit for.
Integrated Risk Management (IRM) is the term used to describe the process of melding emergency operations and prevention strategies into one process, at the station level. It’s the law of the land in the United Kingdom, but the concept isn’t new to the United States, either. Common ideas like home-safety visits, smoke-alarm checks and installations, and delivering fire-safety information directly at the neighborhood level are all part of IRM. But they’re the outputs—the activities done. They don’t describe the process for getting there.
The Process of IRM
In simple terms, IRM is about identifying community risks by station response area, and creating both emergency response and preventive strategies designed to mitigate those risks. Identifying the areas that generate the most calls, or the potential for high life or fire loss, doesn’t have to be rocket science. Neither does combining emergency response and preventive strategies.
Rebecca Booker, FLSE, RN, is a fire investigator for the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department in Blaine, Minn., where the department has been conducting home safety visits for some time. Recently, Booker visited Fire Chief Tony McGuirk of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service in the UK. McGuirk has been active in implementing IRM and as a result, the department’s website has some valuable information on the process of IRM. To view Merseyside’s business plan that incorporates IRM into its basic operational view, visit www.merseyfire.gov.uk/aspx/pages/IRMP/pdf/IRMP_2010%20_040310.pdf.
This document details how the department divides its response area into three risk categories, with response protocols based on the level of risk for each area. It also includes information on the many community partnerships that the department engages in to reduce fire risk. These range from the obvious (ensuring that they reach out to elderly people to make their homes safer) to more unique (working to reduce health inequities among its response population, because being in poor health is associated with a greater risk of death or injury by fire).
It’s for Everyone
In my old jurisdiction (Vancouver, Wash.), some fire captains have been practicing IRM for years. For example, once a year Captain Duane Schuman’s station personnel go door-to-door in a specific part of his response area, passing out reminders that homeowners should be creating a defensible space around their homes due to wildfire risks. He does it on his own—with no prompting from higher-ups—because he sees the need to be proactive in his neighborhood about minimizing risks. He understands that a fire might still happen, but he takes responsibility at his level for mitigating those risks.
Believe me, no one is more committed to training and an effective emergency response capability than Captain Schuman. But that doesn’t keep him from using risk management and prevention strategies to further enhance community safety.
Many of us think that firefighters are overburdened with workload and training requirements, and that is a valid concern. But the concept of IRM is so fundamental to our local fire protection strategies that we should be collectively advocating (or requiring) it as part of our firefighter basic training and requiring it of our officers.
The people we hire as firefighters are smart, or they wouldn’t make it through the hiring process. They understand IRM and can find ways to implement it, even if it involves getting others to do the work for them. Some jurisdictions use Citizen Emergency Response Team members to conduct canvassing or home visits for the station, thereby cementing the relationship between community and a particular fire station. Others partner with outside organizations, like non-profits that already visit high-risk homes.
But we haven’t collectively told fire officers that it’s part of the job. It’s time we did so in hiring, training and promotional opportunities. They’re already smart enough to grasp it—and make it happen.