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4 Reasons Every Fire Department Needs an Inventory Management Strategy

10/31/19
Grainger Editorial Staff

Knowing where all station supplies, equipment and apparatus are at any given moment is imperative to help keep firefighters safe, it could also be the difference between a fire department that runs efficiently or one that goes over budget.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are more than 29,000 U.S. fire departments where over 1 million firefighters either work or volunteer on a regular basis. Most of the career firefighters (72 percent) work in communities that protect 25,000 or more people, while the majority of volunteer firefighters (95 percent) are in departments that protect fewer than 25,000 citizens.

Similar to municipal services like police protection, U.S. fire departments are getting more expensive to operate, with their total expenditures rising by 178 percent between 1980 and 2015, the NFPA reported. It also noted that chiefs of fire departments serving larger communities report problems with shrinking or stagnant budgets, alongside a growing list of responsibilities.

Why Fire Department Inventory Management Is Important

In assessing the reasons why running a fire department is getting more expensive, NFPA points to three key factors:

  • The increase in call volume for some departments, which results in having to increase staffing and apparatus or paying firefighters at overtime rates.
  • Increased emergency management services (EMS), which can lead to increased staffing and, in some communities, replacing apparatus more frequently.
  • The rising costs of retirement and health benefits. 

Inadequate inventory management is another driver of high costs, so having a solid fire department inventory management strategy is extremely important. Focused on maintaining public safety, fighting fires and saving lives, firefighters need to know that their equipmenttools, apparatus, vehicles and basic supplies (e.g., hand soap, paper towels, food, etc.) are taken care of.

“Many fire chiefs, like other city leaders, are having to work with shrinking or restricted budgets," says Nate Nevala, Grainger’s Government Program Manager. These fire chiefs are having to set spending priorities and would love ways to help better manage the costs associated with discretionary spending on items like station supplies.

Station supplies include everything it takes to run a 24/7 operation. “They need everything from truck wash to dish soap to paper towels to keep their operations running,” Nevala adds. To make sure their departments run smoothly, fire chiefs should integrate inventory management strategies into their day-to-day operations.

4 Reasons to Implement a Fire Department Inventory Management System

Here are four reasons all fire departments should implement an inventory management system:

  1. Replace the age-old “buy and hold” inventory strategy. Before public budgets started to tighten, it was probably ok to stock up on equipment and supplies that would “eventually” be used. This isn’t the case anymore. Traditional buy and hold inventory approaches should be replaced with leaner strategies that are supported by technology. This will help fire departments reduce their inventory carrying costs, avoid product obsolescence issues and increase overall inventory turns.
  2. Automate some (or all) of the inventory management process. Fire chiefs are focused on protecting the communities their departments serve, which means they don’t have time to search the station for missing necessities or run out to the nearest grocery store for paper towels. Using a well-functioning inventory management system that’s supported by reliable vendors, for example, will help streamline the process of overseeing (and reporting on) the flow of goods both in and out of stock, generate replenishment alerts and keep costs under control.
  3. Gain unprecedented levels of inventory visibility. Fire chiefs and other department employees need a clear view of product inventory, including location, status, quantities and other key metrics. Spreadsheet-based inventory management systems can’t provide these levels of visibility. Instead, they tend to drive up the volume of stock-outs, overstocks, and inaccuracies. Fire chiefs can avoid these issues with a robust inventory management system that enables good visibility and provides a clear view of where everything is at any given time.
  4. Maintain a sharp focus on their most important mission. Firefighters are not inventory management specialists. Knowing this, fire chiefs can help their career and volunteer firefighters do their jobs more effectively, while also taking the pressure off of themselves. For example, Grainger KeepStock® Inventory Management Solutions, offer a flexible solution that addresses fire departments’ most critical inventory challenges and concerns. By controlling inventory, fire chiefs can help keep their fire department running at a maximum level—and for minimum cost and effort—during both normal operations and emergency situations.

Difficult to forecast due to its variability, a fire department’s inventory strategy requires a special touch that goes beyond just ordering to avoid stock-outs. The good news is that with proper inventory management and stock control, fire chiefs can effectively balance inventory and be prepared for unexpected emergencies. 

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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