These are not good times for the fire service. Every government is looking very hard at how its money is being spent and what it is getting in return. But the fire service is different. I have heard many firefighters say that the fire service is an expense for citizens that does not produce a tangible product. But I contend the fire service is unique, and differs from other municipal and taxpayer-supported agencies in that we actually do produce tangible products.
Your fire department responds to a fire in the storage room of a store on Main Street. When you arrive, there is a medium smoke condition and all of the employees are out on the sidewalk. Your first-in company officer investigates and calls for a hoseline to be stretched. The storage room is well involved and a second hoseline is stretched as a backup line. Roof operations are commenced, a thorough search is conducted, and salvage and overhaul are performed. The fire is extinguished and the building is saved. This fire required the use of all four engines and the two ladder companies of your department and several hours elapsed from the time of the alarm to the time your units returned to the firehouse. What is your tangible product here?
Several weeks after the fire in the store, your department responds to a smoke condition on the third floor of a downtown apartment house. While responding, the companies are informed that the fire department is receiving many calls reporting smoke. On arrivals, the first engine reports a “working fire” with flames showing from a single window on the third floor. This fire operation also ends up requiring the use of several hoselines along with truck companies performing search and rescue, ventilation, salvage and overhaul. Several overcome residents were found during the search and removed from the upper floors. Although the fire did extend to the floor above, it was quickly located by the companies operating there and controlled. Here too the fire was extinguished and the structure was saved. Except for the damage to the fire area, the remainder of the building is usable and reoccupied. What is your tangible product here?
Your companies respond to a two-vehicle collision on the highway and provide medical assistance to several of the vehicles’ occupants as well as extrication of a trapped driver in one of the vehicles. The accident involved an auto-parts delivery van and a private passenger car. By using extrication equipment properly and with care, firefighters removed the driver from the delivery van without too much damage to the vehicle, which allowed it to be picked up and driven away by the store owner after the investigation was complete. What is your tangible product here?
Let’s talk now about your department’s tangible products. On the second Wednesday of the month you, as the fire chief, attend the city council meeting along with all of the other department heads. Routine business is conducted until the reports for each department are requested. When it is your turn to stand and speak, you report that your department responded to 26 emergency calls for the month that included two structural fires, four auto accidents, five brushfires, five automatic alarms and 10 public-service calls. The council thanks you and asks the police chief for his report when you interrupt and ask to outline the items and people saved during your department’s operations. The council says yes and you list the following items and people saved.
At the store fire on Main Street, the fire department saved the store! Had we not responded or not completed a successful firefighting operation, the entire structure would have been lost along with its contents, the property taxes it pays the city and the jobs it provides:
Value of the store $400,000
Value of stock $100,000
Taxes store pays $22,000/year
Jobs saved Six full-time jobs
At the apartment house fire, we again saved the building:
Value of building $750,000
Taxes paid $26,000/year
Homes saved 12 apartments
Jobs saved Six full-time jobs
If we all document, research and publicize the value of the tangible items that we save while performing our fire-rescue duties, we can place a monetary value on the service that we provide to our citizens and customers.