Whose Side Should We Take?

It would be my hope that all of you are well aware, by now, of the fire department in rural South Fulton, TN, which failed to extinguish a fire because of the failure of a family to pay their subscription fee. I am not at all shocked by the furor which...


It would be my hope that all of you are well aware, by now, of the fire department in rural South Fulton, TN, which failed to extinguish a fire because of the failure of a family to pay their subscription fee. I am not at all shocked by the furor which this egregious event has spawned across the length and breadth of the fire service. This is not the first time this type of story has occurred in our nation. Perhaps it has traveled a lot farther and faster in this age of instant electronic media.

What did surprise me was the fact that my daughter came to me and asked me if I had heard about it. I told her that I had and gave her some of the salient facts regarding this type of fire department, as well as the rural nature of the community where it occurred. It seems as though she was following this story thread on a Facebook page with her firefighting buddies and was concerned that I had not heard of it. Bravo Katie for keeping the old Dadster in the loop.

This is a story with a message. That message is real simple. Fire protection is too important to be left to people who treat it like they were magazine salespeople working to make an extra buck on the side. Fire protection is a critical service and it should not be provided in an ill-advised and, frankly, half-assed manner.

What, you might ask, can I possibly offer to you regarding this matter? Let me start by sharing a bit of history with you. For those not aware of it, a great deal of our fire protection history comes from the insurance industry. In the early years of our nation, fire protection was often provided by insurance companies. In order to be protected, you had to pay your premium. Does that sound familiar?

Another important question should come up at this time. How would the firefighting teams back then know that you were protected by their company? The answer is really quite simple. When you paid your premium, you were issued a "fire mark" by that firm. You need only do a Google search to see what these fire marks were and what they looked like. I even have a representative sample on the wall of my office.

Over time, the fire protection trends in our nation moved away from the concept of having insurance companies provide our fire protection. However, did you know that as recently as a couple of years ago, the insurance industry in New York City still provided a Fire Patrol to assist the New York City Fire Department in the salvage and overhaul duties of their operations in the mercantile districts of lower Manhattan? They were taken out of service just a short time ago. Never lose sight of the fact that one member of the Fire Patrol, Keith Roma, was killed along with the 343 members of the New York Department on 9/11.

At some point in history, we became accustomed to having a volunteer organization, or some form of government provide our communities with fire protection and suppression services. There really is no definitive point in time at which I can point to say it all started there. Perhaps it is because of the many different ways in which fire protection evolved in America that I really cannot set up a series of solid points of reference.

However, let me suggest to you that all of these various means of providing fire protection had one major thing in common. Dedicated people came together to protect their communities from the devastation, disruption, and destruction which fire can visit upon a community. I really believe that fire protection is a bit too important to be provided to communities in the 21st Century in a manner seemingly more appropriately designed for subscribing to a magazine or a newspaper.

What I can never countenance is the thought of firefighters standing around doing nothing. I am offended that people such as these are allowed to wear the same gear and be looked upon as members of the same fire service as my fellow firefighters in Adelphia and Newark, NJ. I worry that people will think that we are all like those people who only sprung into action when the fire jumped to the home of someone who paid their subscription fee.

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