By now, you have probably heard the newly popular term the "Carbon Footprint." It is the new key phrase and coined by environmentally conscious individuals who feel globally responsible. I believe that this new wave of enlightenment and environmental awareness is not just a fad, but will be here for a long, long time.
Just a decade ago, the global warming concerns and the major environmental issues have not been part of the American mainstream and were considered rather radical and left of the center, promoted mainly by the Sierra Club, Green Peace activists, and "tree huggers." I still remember, during the 1992 Presidential election, then-President George H. Bush, ridiculing the Democrat's vice presidential nominee, then-Senator Al Gore's environmentalist stances, by calling him the "Ozone Man."
But, we have come a long way since then. And despite the resentments of those who believe that these environmental issues are merely politically motivated ploys and discredit the validity of all the international scientific studies that point to the human factor as a major contributor to the global warming; along with the rest of the civilized world, Americans are gradually recognizing the importance of this issue, and accept their responsibility to be part of the solution rather than the problem.
Before going too far into the article though, just in case you didn't clearly know what the term "Carbon Footprint" means, let me explain it briefly. It simply means the sum of all emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) which were induced by human activity within a given time frame (usually a year).
That being said then, as a fire service member, I can see that rather than the fire engine red, our color could just as easily be green! After all, what we do in our line of work is to put out the fires that spew out tremendous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, right? Then my friends, by the virtue of putting out these fires, we are as green as it gets!
Astute environmentalists are aware that wildland fires destroy millions of acres every year. They clearly recognize that these fires not only inject millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, but also destroy the trees and vegetation that are the natural filtration mechanism, that act in a sense like the Earth's lungs, and absorb the CO2 and then in return inject Oxygen back into the atmosphere.
To get a better feel for the magnitude of the wildland fires, take a look at the most recent statistics on the United States Fire Administration (USFA) website that shows that, in 2006, there were 96,385 wildland fires that destroyed 9,873,745 acres.
Unequivocally, fire service's mission in extinguishing fires, has direct impacts on both sides of the environmental equation. But what is not recognized neither by the environmentalists, nor by most in the fire service, is the fact that the structural fires have a significant "Carbon Footprint" too.
Once again, by suppressing the fires in the early stages, we not only reduce the atmospheric pollution by the products of combustion; but also considering that wood construction is dominant in America, by reducing the magnitude of the wasted lumber and property loss, in a sense we preserve the forests too, don't we? Let's put it this way, the less lumber burned down, the less trees get cut down.
There are many more structure fires than wildland fires. The National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) most recent statistic shows that fire service responded to 530,500 structural fires in 2007. It is only logical to believe that decreasing the number of these more than half a million annual structural fires, as well as reducing the progression of fire by early suppression and extinguishment, would directly reduce the magnitude of the CO2 that gets spewed into the atmosphere year after year.