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...

That is just the way it is with real volunteers my friends. I am not complaining, I am just telling the story like it really is. Let me also assure you that I would get up from my computer right now, should my services be needed up the street at the fire station.

Going back in time, there were countless July nights spent in Adelphia as a member of the carnival crew at our annual Adelphia Fire Company Carnival. It was a local tradition for many decades, but no longer exists because it became too much of a burden for us to handle in addition to the increase in fire calls and the growing demands for more firefighter training.

People have to make some serious decisions about their local fire departments. Far too many cities, towns, townships, villages, cities, and fire districts are nickel and diming their fire departments out of existence. Fire departments have been subject to severe cuts by unknowing and uncaring pencil-necked geek business administrators that are rendering them unable to provide even the most basic services which the public has come to expect.

I have written about the problems of Lawrence, MA, Keokuk, IA, and an unknown number of other fire departments where the decisions of people who can't tell a fire truck from a cement mixer are making decisions which put their communities at risk. People had best wake up.

There is a price to be paid if you want services from government. I learned a serious lesson many years ago. There are no free lunches. Even back in the old days when a local gin mill advertised a free lunch, there was an unsaid requirement that you had best buy a couple of beers while you were downing the cold cuts and potato salad. If you didn't you got tossed out the front door.

If people want lousy fire protection, they should just keep expecting us to do more with less. When I joined the Newark Fire Department in 1973, we had over 1,100 members operating 25 engine companies, 12 aerial ladders, a heavy rescue company, and a fully staffed fireboat. There were five battalion districts and three deputy divisions.

Things have changed a great deal over the years. With my brother's retirement on October 1, along with 32 other fire officers, and the planned retirements of 20 on November 1, and another 20 or so on December 1, the department's downward spiral continues.

With the shuttering of my old Battalion 1 assignment and the closure of four more engine companies, the department is now down to about 14 engines and eight ladder companies and less than 600 firefighters. They still have the fireboat and the heavy rescue, but the fireboat is now cross-manned by an engine company which is located many minutes from the Port Newark area where the boat is quartered. There is one deputy and three battalion chiefs on duty.

Newark is still the largest city in New Jersey. It still has the largest rail yard in the state and a major shipping harbor, along with a major international airport and a number major downtown high-rise occupancies. I sure hope someone in city hall knows what they are doing, but I tend to doubt it. The fire chief retired in protest over the budget cuts and staff layoffs which are still pending after all of the retirements I mentioned above. Yet, in spite of all of this, a city hall spokesman stated that fire protection would still be adequate.

Let me suggest that the debacle in Tennessee is just the latest in a growing list of mistakes which are happening because of the fact that citizens in America want more service, but are unwilling to pay more in taxes for it. Somebody had best "man up" on this issue, or we are going to see more buildings burn to the ground in places with understaffed and improperly funded fire departments.

Let me suggest that these are just a couple of thoughts from a guy who has been to a fire or two. And by the way, I am on the side of those who believe that the citizen deserves the best fire protection possible: Not just what the cheapskates, bean-counters, and pencil-necked geeks think we should have. We need to devote some solid research into how best to fund fire departments in this dumb-assed economic climate we all hear so much about. I'm just saying..."