What are the Odds?

I read the article titled "Families of "Charleston 9" Reach Partial Settlement" posted on the Firehouse.com, and the memory of that tragedy got my blood boiling again. What a shame! Nine firefighters died in that disaster, and now three years later and in...


Are the elected officials fully aware of what is truly at stake? Are they willing to accept those consequences for many years to come? Or are they just looking ahead just as far as the next election, so that the short-term gains could be more appealing than the safety of their communities? In that case, is the public fully aware of those issues and the consequences?

I believe that we must educate our elected officials and public administrators. We must provide them with a true community risk assessment and fire loss management plan. This will allow them to make well-informed decisions based on the community's needs and the availability of current resources, while being fully cognizant of the long-term impacts of their decisions.

And we must also better inform our public so that they are well aware and willing to accept the consequences of the decisions that are made on their behalf today, which could have adverse impacts on their lives for many years to come.

Bottom line is that as public servants, based on our professional obligations and fiduciary responsibilities, all that we really can do, is to inform and provide the public and their elected officials with the detailed risk assessments, so that they can make better educated decisions for their communities.

It is all about being fully aware of the real magnitude of the problem and knowing what the stakes are.

After all is said and done, just like anything else in life, it all boils down to being able to live with the consequences of their decisions. And then if at the end of the day, they decide to cut the levels of fire protection for their community, then so be it. That is truly their right. And their decision will be fully obeyed.

We will then have to adjust and reduce our service delivery to the levels desired by the community.

Quite similar to when the loss of income forces the head of the household to prioritize spending, which could mean having to do without health insurance for a while, for the sake of having food on the dinner table for the kids. Not prudent indeed, but definitely understandable.

Now, looking inside my friends, by the same token, when it comes to down-sizing, the same logic should also apply to our decision-making process in the fire service. When it comes to making a decision to where and what to cut, we must also take the time to analyze the long-tern consequences and impacts of our decisions too.

We must not be too "trigger happy" as we have historically been, and cut our public education and fire prevention programs at a drop of a hat with the first signs of budgetary problems.

Unfortunately though, these days there are way too many examples of public education and fire prevention programs around the country bearing the brunt of the budget assaults, and losing virtually all of their staff if not the entire division.

I intentionally started this article by referencing the Charleston fire tragedy. Because, the panel's investigation report showed that the Charleston disaster was as much about the fire prevention neglects as the tactical fire suppression errors.

Yes, there could have been a fire in Charleston, and yes there probably would have been the same types of tactical errors on the fire ground, since they were trained to do so, for many years.  But, then as the Charleston investigation panel reports showed, the severity and consequences of such a fire would not have been as devastating; and nine firefighters wouldn't have lost their lives, if they had a good fire prevention program.

As I discussed in may article "Rolling the Dice" back in 2008, the panel's investigation report, indicated that six years prior to the Charleston tragedy, they had cut their fire prevention program.

The majority of the constructions were done without any review and permit, and without inspections. The report indicated that discontinuing the fire prevention and inspection programs contributed directly and significantly to the size and progression of the fire and the magnitude of the tragedy in Charleston.

It was not only the tactical fire fighting decisions that were made on the scene on that particular night that led to that tragedy, but also the decisions made many years earlier to ignore the fire prevention programs and to discontinue the fire inspections.