While it is clear that tough economic times have affected most of North America's fire service, there also seems to be an impression, in some communities that they can do "without" some "parts" of their fire department. But...which parts?
Which stations and most critically: which people?
What part of the fire department is not needed?
And then the issue further begs the question: Whose fire will be affected?
Which of the citizens in the community will have that fire where those cuts matter? It is often very predictable where the fires will be-not always, but often.
Sure, sometimes it is a long shot but those making the decisions must keep in mind that their decisions may -- but most often -- will not affect them personally. Odds are the ones making the decisions see themselves as the ones who will not have a fire. Not have a heart attack. Not have the need for a whole bunch of firefighters arriving in about four minutes and the members actually having a clue.
So the cuts are done and life goes on...until the next fire. or "that" fire. The one fire everyone will eventually talk about. History has proven there will be "that" fire.
But when it comes to self preservation, sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
Yes, believe it or now -- it's true.
For example, last June, a Chicago battalion chief slept through a run. Is that a problem? Absolutely for him, the firefighters and whoever is having the fire. We are on duty and expected to respond to runs. Going to fires is a core value, primary mission, whatever phrase you call it, for a fire department. Do we sometimes sleep through runs? Yes, but we can't.
And it was a serious run according to accounts: a fire bombing of a building with rescues and related working fire tasks. Chiefs have proven to be quite helpful when that happens. Running those scenes is what chiefs do. Chiefs must respond.
But here is where the "give it up" part comes in. A Chicago Fire Department (CFD) spokesman told the media that there are "always at least two chiefs at a working fire," so the chiefs absence would have had no impact on how the emergency was handled. That is the impression the reporters were given and that is what they printed and reported.
That's where we "give it up." The Chicago Fire commissioner and those who run the show there obviously want two chiefs on any first alarm fire. Quickly. And for excellent reasons. And in spite of what some think, say or feel, a second chief missing a run is a serious problem and that position is not always easily replaced. Between the issues of command, control, accountability, rescue, water, venting, safety, firefighter rescue and all the other stuff chiefs are expected in manage in about 10 seconds of getting out of the buggy, two chiefs arriving from as close as possible are critical in Chicago, and anywhere else. That's why the CFD dispatches it that way.
While circumstances can potentially delay any unit, the critical need for all companies and bosses arriving quickly and operating simultaneously is a focal point in the win or lose aspect of the fireground.
But when we, spokespeople, public information officers or anyone else gives the impression that a chief arriving as soon as possible would not be critical, we are "giving it up". The next thing you know, the public starts to think:
"well then, why are we paying for that?"
"why do we need so many chiefs??"
Or at the next council meeting, some suited city hall dweller will comment "Hey I have a brainstorm, why don't we cut all these "extra" chiefs if you claim they are not critical--after all, times are tight and elections are right around the corner."
And it is happening in many communities around the U.S. right now.
Last week in a Florida community it was suggested by a consultant that they lay off an entire shift of firefighters and just make the others work more hours and more shifts. Another outstandingly ill advised idea so that, in this case, the community of West Palm Beach can balance the budget issues on the backs of the fire department and the firefighters. And again, there will be "that" fire and the results of those kinds of ideas will repeat history.
Times are tough and clearly, as always, fire departments have to operate as effectively as possible and provide nothing for anyone to unfairly target. And while these days, in almost every community, departments are being "looked at," the last thing we wanna do is to "give it up" by failing to train, failing to follow the SOP's, failing to turnout or failing to insure the media and the public fully understand why we are so critical to them.
We are critical to them. They just don't know it yet.