Vision 20/20: A plan for the future of the fire service

Vision 20/20

It’s perhaps easier to explain what Vision 20/20 is by explaining what it’s not. It’s not an appointment with your optometrist. It’s not an organization. It’s a special project that grew out of a national planning process intended to create a vision of what fire safety, prevention, and protection efforts in the United States should look like in the year 2020. The title recognizes the fire service’s need for such a vision. The project is based on the premise that, despite progress over the years, our nation still has one of the worst fire loss records of any industrialized country in the world.

The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and other countries do significantly better at overall fire protection than we do. That leads to better fire loss records (incidents, injuries, and deaths) than we have here. That fact motivated a group of fire protection practitioners to come together in an ad hoc fashion to develop national strategies that would improve fire protection in the United States.

The process began in 2006 when fire marshals from across the nation gathered at the National Fire Academy for a meeting managed by the U.S. Fire Administration. The meeting was about the need to allow for training and networking among peers, a unique concept at the time. The passion from participants—in particular Ozzie Mirkhah from the Las Vegas Fire Department and Ben May from Epcot at Disney World in Orlando—led to an online discussion about how to improve prevention and protection efforts in the United States.

That conversation resulted in a federal grant application to conduct a strategic plan with pertinent stakeholders to determine how we could improve fire prevention and protection efforts. In 2007, the national planning process began through meetings at locations across the nation and online webinars. In 2008, 170 fire protection practitioners met in Washington, D.C., where stakeholders came together to look at perceived gaps in national prevention and protection.

The planning process was important because participants didn’t want to replicate or compete with efforts already under way. The planning focused on gaps in the national fabric and left alone organizations and important existing efforts, such as promoting home fire sprinklers, wildland fire safety, and fire-standard-compliant cigarettes. Those initiatives were not included in the plan. The strategies that did receive priority status had been mentioned in previous plans (such as America Burning in 1973) but were still viewed worthy of special emphasis.

Those strategies include the following:

  • advocating to outside decision makers the importance of fire prevention programs
  • developing a national fire safety education and marketing campaign that includes a national theme (such as “only you can prevent forest fires”) and a focus on working smoke alarms
  • increasing the importance of fire prevention within the culture of the fire service
  • promoting technologies that improve prevention and protection efforts
  • increasing the fire service focus on the development, adoption, and enforcement of codes and standards

Out of that planning process, the Vision 20/20 Project grew into a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to the project’s goals. The project name more aptly describes the concerted effort that’s intended to encourage actions that lead to improved fire prevention and protection efforts in the United States.

From the beginning, the Institution of Fire Engineers, U.S. Branch, stepped up as the host organization. Other stakeholders include the International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Firefighters, National Fire Protection Association, International Code Council, American Red Cross, and Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. (The full list of Steering Committee members is on the Vision 20/20 website.)

A great deal of progress has been made in each of the strategic areas since the original plan. Free tools are available online to help local fire departments develop fire prevention advocacy plans. Those tools link the use of data to producing results to help explain why fire prevention deserves support. We developed a national fire safety theme, Fire Is Everyone’s Fight, which the U.S. Fire Administration promotes with free materials available at its website. Also on the website are free public education tools for standardized messages on smoke alarms that were market-tested for their appeal to high-risk audiences. You can print those materials locally.

Considerable effort by the project has produced educational offerings, free tools, and a national advocacy strategy for fire service leaders to increase the adoption of integrated community risk reduction (CRR) concepts by the U.S. fire service. Free tools for CRR training, including online training in partnership with the International Fire Service Training Association, are available on

The Vision 20/20 Project exists to initiate and coordinate the collaboration of efforts to improve fire prevention and protection strategies in the United States, with an emphasis on strategies proposed in the original plan. Those who want to learn more or wish to become involved can visit the Vision 20/20 website. You can help in a variety of ways by initiating actions that work in tandem with the Vision 20/20 Project, volunteering time, or providing funding for our programs.

For more information, you can contact me directly at

Jim CrawfordJim Crawford, FIFireE, Vision 20/20 project manager, is a retired fire marshal and deputy chief of the Vancouver, Washington, Fire Department. He’s a member of the NFPA technical committee on professional qualifications for fire marshals, a former member of the standards council for the NFPA, a Fellow of the Institution of Fire Engineers, a life member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and past president of the International Fire Marshal’s Association. The author of Fire Prevention Organization and Management, he serves as an editorial board member of FireRescue. He’s received the R. Wayne Powell Excellence in Fire Prevention Award, the Congressional Fire Services Institute Dr. Anne Phillips Award for leadership in fire and life safety education, recognition from the International Fire Service Training Association, the “Fire Protection Person of the Year” from the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and the Percy Bugby Award from the International Fire Marshal’s Association.

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