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Risk is one of the top issues I like discussing. A term which is frequently used is “acceptable risk.” Just like with the topic, this phrase can present with several definitions and applications. For this discussion, I am using the term with the intention of how a community views acceptable risk. A component within the public safety arena is providing services for fire/rescue response. Volunteer fire departments account for approximately three-quarters of these organizations. On a national level, the volunteer or paid-on-call departments are becoming a fragile system with many of them struggling to deliver expected services. Increased call volume, training, specialized services provided, and cost of living have contributed to a lack of participation from local individuals to fill these volunteer spots. Leaving public safety administrators with initiating creative ways to recruit and retain membership. The bottom line comes down to the community deciding what risk they feel is acceptable. For an effective decision to be made the people must be informed on what is at risk. Leaders in the community must understand what is at stake and articulate these concerns to the community. If taxes need to be raised to create paid services, then the voters must understand what is on the table. Public officials must employ a thorough, accurate, and understandable marketing plan before the polls open. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a lack of truthful data when it comes to trying to fix the problem.
A large county next to ours is currently facing this issue. The fire protection is provided through a mixture of volunteer departments and for-profit subscription services. A study was released by the University of Tennessee County Technical Advisory Service on the benefits of consolidating all departments under one leadership and funding through taxes. This would have provided a positive impact on delivering emergency services. Instead, the county leadership released a partial set of statistics and stated the current system wasn’t broken. Therefore, the government didn’t need to take it over. Once the mayor went on record with that statement, the plan to consolidate was killed. The communities involved were never told the risk of the current system or the benefit of having paid fire protection services. Therefore, the local government determined what was an acceptable risk without citizen involvement.