Is diversity a good thing in public safety?
December 2, 2014
Diversity is defined as “The fact or quality of being diverse; difference; a point or respect in which things differ; variety or multiformity” according to The American Heritage Dictionary. Having a diverse workforce has clear advantages, but what purpose does diversity serve in determining how to best treat a patient or mitigate an emergent situation? Is it just the way it has always been done, do “best practices” really matter, or is it that we just think our way is the best and that’s that? Why does every station, agency, municipality, region and state have a different set of policies, procedures and structure? I would argue that some degree of diversity is necessary to accommodate variations in resources and the needs of the public, but that only goes so far. We have gone to great lengths to establish national standards for EMS & Fire training, certification and best practices for activities in these realms, yet we are slow to adopt and implement them uniformly. We work in positions of public trust, as such we should move aggressively toward earning and retaining that trust by providing services that are prudent, proven and effective.
You may recall a story of an ancient city called Bable, its tale is told in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Genesis, chapter 11, verses 4-9. In this story a great civilization arose (public safety) and sought to meet their god in person (a perfect world). To accomplish this they all collaborated to construct a great tower (policies, procedures, etc.). As it were, the Lord had reservations about this and sought to thwart their efforts and thus confused their communications via creating many languages (diversity) where there was once one, thus preventing them from obtaining their goal. While our goal is somewhat less lofty, I find it perplexing that we ourselves have imposed this confounding practice of diversity on our organizations willingly. To be fair, we did have to develop our own systems before any of the best practices were yet discovered (with the exception of our stubborn indifference to the EMS Agenda for the Future and its subsequent reiterations.). This does not absolve us from the responsibility of setting things right. We must now deconstruct our defective structures and rebuild using sound and proven practices.
I understand the pessimism some of you have about the ability of these leaders to put aside business as usual and turf battles to create a true regional system. Doing so could transform public safety into a much better integrated and responsive framework that can serve the citizens, and the professionals that have chosen to serve, in a much more efficient and effective manner. These leaders may be justifiably concerned with control of resources and allocation of those resources to the communities they are charged with protecting. Some, if not all, of these localities are already stretched thin on some key assets such as ambulances and paramedics. Will the region take the next step and begin reallocating resources across boundaries to solve response issues? Regionalization is an attainable goal but should not be used to solve individual department’s shortcomings with staffing and resource allocation.
The cost of change is significant, but if done collectively could produce significant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness that will outweigh and justify the cost. We are a long way from national EMS protocols or standard staffing models but state and regional models are already in place that should serve as examples for Fire and EMS systems as they move toward a more integrated and uniform approach to providing services. Imagine if every firefighter and EMS provider was trained to employ tools and methods that were proven to work and adopted as a best practice by NFPA and/or NREMT (or for that matter VDFP and VAOEMS). The need for agency specific operational policy and protocols would be minimized instantly. Training, logistics and administration could be streamlined and regionalized with little difficulty. It might even be possible to fill those staffing holes with some of the administrative staff that would be out of work.
Happy days indeed,