Effectiveness vs. efficiency

There are several tired, tired arguments from this county commissioner and airport director.  If you haven’t heard someone say that about your own department then you’re either waaaaaay under-staffed already or just aren’t listening to the right cranks.  This accusation that fire departments don’t make many calls and so should be cut down is so common that we need to formulate a clear and compelling refutation to have at the ready.  There are two points we need to get across:
1. We do more than sit around playing checkers and napping
2. Maximum efficiency is undesirable, so undesirable it is dangerous

Relating call volume to staffing needs stems from a pernicious misunderstanding that seems to flow naturally from our business-oriented society.  Most people accept the idea that improved efficiency is an end in itself.  Efficiency means you operate at the bare, bleeding edge.  There is necessarily NO built-in reserve capacity in a perfectly efficient system because reserves sit idle most of the time.

But we’re here for the 5%, not the 95%.  Effective fire service, like effective critical medical care and effective defense, means that we can meet the foreseeable, though unusual, scenarios that don’t often happen.  The quest to maximize efficiency is one of systematically dismantling our ability to effectively manage emergencies.

We will come back to this topic again and again on the blog.  We can always improve our services and give the citizens more for their money; but there is a point of diminishing returns on the quest for efficiency.

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