Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose


A RECENT FIRESTORM SURROUNDED A FIRE in Obion County, TN, where a fire department that is funded by subscriptions offered to those beyond the city limits responded to an outside fire near a home whose occupant apparently didn't pay the annual fee, similar to car insurance, to be protected by the nearby fire department. Because the incident made the local and national news, there was a firestorm of controversy. Some believe the firefighters should have extinguished the fire and then tried to collect payment; others contend that because the occupant didn't pay, the fire wasn't going to be extinguished. Apparently, several animals died in the blaze.

I didn't see the video coverage. I don't know whether the fire was too involved for the firefighters to attempt a rescue. If it was well involved, it seems apparent that firefighters' lives were not going to be risked. There are no winners in this situation. Firehouse® covered a similar situation in Alaska about 25 years ago. Local governments in these areas will not tax residents to provide fire protection for those living outside the municipality. People who choose to live in these areas understand that situation. For those people, it's a case of "You pay me now because you can't pay me later." There is no winner and until the funding changes, this will continue to occur.

THIS MONTH, WE LOOK BACK ON TWO MAJOR LOSS-OF-LIFE FIRES. First, we review The Station Night Club fire, which occurred in West Warwick, RI, on Feb. 20, 2003, and killed 100 people. We also look into a forgotten nightclub fire that occurred in a small minority community in the South. The fire in the Rhythm Night Club in Natchez, MS, killed over 200 people and is the second-worst nightclub fire in U.S. history, following the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, which killed 492 people on Nov. 28, 1942. See page 90 for accounts of these tragedies.

You have to respond on some type of apparatus to protect the public, so this month we are proud to present our latest apparatus issue. We highlight the latest and greatest in fire, rescue, EMS and specialty units in our Apparatus Showcase, starting on page 58.

ONE OF THE MOST UNUSUAL, LENGTHY AND CHALLENGING RESCUES in recent times was the rescue of 33 miners in Chile, watched live by millions around the globe. With the use of the latest technology, cameras showed the scenes where the miners were trapped a half-mile below the earth's surface, the rescue shaft itself, and the emotional reunions of the miners and their families. With help from responders from several countries who assisted in digging the rescue tunnel, the miners were rescued several weeks earlier than previously expected. A truly amazing sight.

AS UNION CONTRACTS COME UP FOR RENEWAL, budgets are prepared and governments discover that funds are lower than expected, budget cuts, layoffs, consolidations and givebacks are being made all across the country. It doesn't matter whether the department is large or small. As examples, fire departments are considering layoffs (St. Louis, MO), cutting millions of dollars from their budgets (Cincinnati, OH, and Houston, TX) and "browning-out" companies (San Diego, CA). Even the FDNY is considering removing the fifth firefighter from numerous engine companies. On a positive note, Fall River, MA, has hired a class of 48 new firefighters to replace firefighters laid off two years ago. Their salaries will be paid for the next two years through a $10 million federal grant.

Much of the progress firefighters and their unions have made over the last several decades is in fast decline in these tough economic times. Firefighters continue to provide givebacks and make concessions to avoid layoffs. It seems like this type of reversal of fortunes will continue when contracts and budgets are due and until the fiscal climate improves. See page 14 for a sampling of what's happening to fire departments and firefighters across the country.

Ten years ago, after 9/11, every firefighter and fire department was looked upon as America's last heroes. America's firefighters could do no wrong. Now, with millions of people out of work, firefighters are looked on by some as greedy, overpaid and receiving overwhelmingly generous retirement benefits. After 9/11, they said, "We'll never forget." But how soon they did forget.