Providing Service to North America’s Heroes

By Past Chief Tim Boel, VFIS

Every day, emergency responders potentially put themselves in harm’s way for the safety of others in the task of protecting our communities. VFIS takes pride in insuring North America’s heroes as the largest provider of insurance, education and consulting services to emergency service organizations such as fire departments, ambulance and rescue squads and 911 centers. We have a long history of helping the emergency service community protect their assets and manage their exposure to loss.

VFIS enjoys working with FASNY in their mission and dedication to informing, educating and training the volunteer fire service, which FASNY has done since 1872. This is in line with our common goal of providing programs and materials to all emergency service organizations to help fulfill requirements and keep responders performing at their highest level possible. VFIS has an education and training team staffed by active emergency service personnel with more than 400 years of combined emergency service experience.

Every year, more than 100,000 injuries and over 100 deaths occur to emergency responders (both fire and EMS personnel) during training or on actual emergency calls. It is our goal to help reduce that number. Having worked with FASNY providing a number of seminars over the years, together we have worked to meet the needs of emergency responders. Programs include “Managing a Modern and Effective Fire Department,” “Riding the Right Front Seat” and, new in 2019, the annual OSHA refresher program, which was conducted in a webinar series.

There are a number of areas of concern emergency responders face in our changing times and we all need to provide today’s needs and plan for tomorrow. Here are a few of the areas of concern that agencies need to keep in mind in meeting the challenges we face.

Managing Volunteer and Combination Emergency Service Organizations

You can’t run your organization the way you used to! Today’s emergency service organization (ESO) is simply not an “emergency response agency.” Your ESO requires a number of management practices needed by all volunteer organizations, particularly regarding finance, personnel issues and planning in order to function and survive. Each ESO has a number of leadership positions to divide the workload and provide for more focus in those positions. In essence, ESOs have changed from their original mission of response to an emergency to one of identifying potential problems, planning to deal with risk, educating the public, preparing the community in the event of an emergency, and responding to manage the problem that exists.

Emergency Responder Safety

The goal of all ESOs should be to provide a safe and healthy work environment where risks that are taken commensurate with the potential benefits (Risk a lot to save a lot; risk a little to save a little; and risk nothing to save nothing). In going beyond the typical hazards encountered at the emergency scene, ESOs need to identify risks associated with the event encountered and operate accordingly in some cases this may include changing the cultures of our operations and personnel.

Emergency Vehicle Operations

The operator of emergency vehicles in today’s society carries a heavy responsibility. The penalty for not adequately being training or operating an emergency vehicle within industry standards carries legal consequences. Emergency vehicle operators and the entities they represent have been held both criminally and civilly responsible for their actions. In a nutshell, if we can’t operate a POV or an emergency vehicle safely enough to arrive at the scene of an incident safely, we may not be able to help anyone.

Recruitment and Retention

This has become a major concern to the volunteer response community across America. The numbers tell the story. We have fewer emergency responders today then we had only a decade ago and we at times struggle to provide the service our community has come to rely on us to provide.

We have to change how we meet staffing needs and how we deal with recruiting and retaining personnel and the approach we use. All of us looking at the answer to this question and working as a team have some very creative methods, ideas and recommendations and it begins with leadership.

Emergency responders have many tools at their disposal to help meet their needs from the programs FASNY provides to meet not only today’s needs but future needs. The partnerships that have been formed with FASNY, NYSAFC, AFDSNY, NYS OFPC, VFIS and others make the resources to emergency responders the best available. In addition to providing many training classes available to agencies, VFIS has a number of other resources from educational material to training videos. Our online training VFIS University (VFISU), Responder Help and Safety Central, and a number of other risk control tools are available to help meet day-to-day safety and educational needs.

Always remember: Safety starts with you but there is strength in numbers.

Tim Boel, VFIS Education and Training Specialist in New York, has been with VFIS for six years. He is a Past Chief, President, Commissioner and an active 40- year veteran of the East Greenbush Fire Department in upstate New York. He has instructed a number of emergency command and management and live fire and risk interdiction programs at various levels for police/fire and EMS for the last 30 years throughout the Northeast. Boel retired in 2016 from the East Greenbush Police Department as a 911 Supervisor after 35 years with the department. He is a member of numerous emergency service organizations and associations, including Past President of the New York State Association of Fire and Life Safety Educators. He is currently a volunteer Director of New York State Chiefs and has been a FASNY member for over 30 years.