Hard to believe, but as I sit to write my final column there are 45 days until the end of my term and far less days as you read this. Even harder to believe is that it has been three years since I asked for your support and became elected to the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs’ Board. Certainly, nothing happens overnight, but the momentum set in play by predecessors and furthered by all makes this about organization not individual. So, how did we do compare to those “campaign promises?”
- “Everyone Goes Home”: Cancer and Mental Health Taskforces were launched. These are important initiatives that attempt to change our culture. When it comes to cancer reduction we need to keep on our SCBA’s and shower within the hour to reduce our carcinogen exposure. Pertaining to mental health; we need to drop the “suck it up buttercup” approach and ensure that all of our members have access to peer support and mental health services.
In the last month, our Mental Health Taskforce has received great exposure which has increased awareness and will help build our programs. Kudos to Superior Battalion Chief Erik Sutton’s family, the Superior Fire Department family and Superior Mayor Jim Paine for being so transparent. After announcing that BC Sutton’s death was a suicide, Superior Mayor Jim Paine stated “we have all agreed that while the price of Erik’s service was too high, none of us will allow his death to pass in vain.” This statement created an opportunity to share on social media, which brought exposure to our mental health team building and further increased awareness. As we build the Mental Health Task Force, if you or someone you know needs peer support, critical incident or just someone to talk to, please reach out to me. While I am not trained, I will connect you to existing resources and make a connection. Call me, I will connect you, 414-301-2646.
- “Training opportunities”: In 2018, we took a gamble and reinvented the Winter In-Service. WSFCA hosted a South session held at Volk Field and a North session in Wausau. We brought in the IAFC program “Hoses and Helmets” that focuses on recruitment and retention. Additionally, the pre-conference provided great quick presentation on budgeting, media relations, leadership and safety. The often-overlooked benefit of camaraderie and idea sharing was a further benefit.
- “Emergency Medical Services”: While we are the “Fire” Chiefs, many of our organizations provide Medical Services and at a very high percentage. Not only do we need to further embrace Medical Services but expand our focus and ensure medical prevention programs are part of our services. Community Paramedic legislation became law in November of 2017 after acouple of years of building momentum. This was a great accomplishment, but the reality is that we still have to be actively involved as the Administrative Rules for Community Paramedic begins to take shape. Community Paramedic or Mobile Integrated Health is greatly misunderstood due to there being no precise template from community to community. Each community must find their health care gaps and work on closing them through prevention, innovative approaches and partnerships. Locally we just did some analytics and found that 30% of our calls have a “fall” component. Therefore, we have fall prevention programs, home checks and are actively involved in presenting the "Stepping On" program in our community and as a partner with other organizations. Community Paramedic becoming law was a great step, but many more steps to come. We must embrace all aspects of EMS from prevention to transport to post discharge outreach.
- “Politics”: One goal was to have a Fire Chief’s day at the Capitol. Maybe not what was dreamed of, but we certainly succeeded. The first ever EMS Lobby Day was held in Madison on November 1, 2017. Through collaborative efforts of the Office of Rural Health, Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs’ Association, Professional Ambulance Association of Wisconsin, Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin and Wisconsin EMS Association, over 100 members were prepped on their visits, had lunch and headed to the Capitol to meet with their Legislators. The visits were amazing and it gave many their first taste of advocacy. We have heard from members how this Lobby Day experience gave them the confidence to get more involved and have spurred further meetings and outreach opportunities with their legislators. It was a great event and certainly hope more to come.
- “Partnerships”: We have made great strides in building stronger partnerships, collaborations and relationships. If you look at the above initiatives, they were not done alone but through partnerships and collaborations. I certainly run the risk of forgetting someone, but thanks to those we worked with: American Heart Association, Office of Rural Health, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, MABAS Wisconsin, Professional Ambulance Association of Wisconsin, Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, Wisconsin Fire Chiefs’ Education Association, Wisconsin Fire Service Administration Association, Wisconsin Society of Fire Service Instructors, Wisconsin State Firefighters Association, Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial and Honor Guard, Wisconsin State Fire Inspectors Association, Wisconsin Technical College System and Wisconsin EMS Association. Finally, all the local Chiefs’ and County Associations we have called upon to assist. Certainly forgot some group(s) but no less thanks to everyone in our journey. As was stated at Lobby Day, organizations have not traditionally worked together based on the 10% we did not agree upon but moving forward we need to collaborate to build upon the 90% we do.
- “Add value, create a brand and increase membership”: Certainly hope we have added value by all of the items above plus greater outreach, communications (Firewire and e-mails) and better social media. Continuance will further create our brand. I have realized that we have little control over membership, but if we continue to build on our 90 years, membership should follow. Additionally, the reorganization into Regional Trustees will hopefully further assist representation, outreach, involvement and growth.
Each step is a journey that adds to the body of work that has been done previously. Despite the accomplishments there is unfinished work.
- We must continue to work on re-establishing fire sprinkler requirement in 3-20 unit newly constructed apartment complexes.
- We must continually advocate, educate and promote community risk reduction, fire prevention, detection and pre-arrival suppression.
- We must be focused on firefighter safety including; training, fitness, mental health, incident scene and overall wellness.
Nothing is done alone so the “thank you” portion.
- Thank you to those that took time out to call or write offer- ing support, encouragement or appreciation for something we did. Thanks even to those that disagreed and let us know, only then can we have an upfront conversation about where we stand or agree to disagree.
- Thank you to the previous Boards and Presidents that laid the foundation and momentum for the organization.
- Thank you to those that serve on our Boards and Committees.
- Thank you to the current Board for your support and service. We accomplished a lot and there is plenty left to do. First hand, I saw this Board’s dedication to a stronger, safer fire service as a whole (not a focus on career or combination or volunteer).
- Thank you to my city and our organization. Knowing you can go on the road or immerse yourself in an issue and the department, members and city are well taken care of is greatly appreciated.
- Thank you to my wife (Casey), daughters (Charlee and Reese) and extended family. You have supported this endeavor and have been understanding when a schedule needed to be changed, a school drop off had to be covered or an event missed due to another commitment. Thank you beyond words.
“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” - Theodore Roosevelt.
“Leadership is not about being in charge, leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” - Simon Sinek.
Be well. Be safe. Be a leader that takes care of others.
Chief Jon Cohn
President, Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs' Association