Lately I believe that I have witnessed the development of a serious problem within the fire service. It seems to have taken on the nature of a disease. Many among us seem to be overly concerned with themselves to the exclusion of any consideration for the needs and concerns of others. This would seem to be an insidious disease that strikes the brain, rendering it incapable of looking outward for any sort of help. A second stage of the disease then appears to render people incapable of caring for anyone else.
It would be my suggestion that we recognize that each of us has a contract with the public. Whether it is written or not, we have at the very least created an implied contract to protect and defend our fellow citizens. Each of us signs this contract when we step forward to serve in the fire and emergency service field.
If we are to fulfill this contract we must remember that we have a deep and abiding obligation to consider these people and their feelings as a part of our emergent though processes. None of us exists solely for our own selfish needs. Once we step forward we must remember that we are expected to provide those critical infrastructure services.
I have written a great deal over the past several years about how the fire service needs to reach out beyond itself to win the support of the public. Many times during my career in the fire service I have wondered why more of our activities were not featured in the local media. I frequently encountered a brick wall of opposition; a stone wall of silence as it were, every time I sought permission to reach out to the community.
Each time I tried to place the services of our agency before the public eye, I found myself in trouble. It struck me as odd that we, as a public agency, were unwilling to speak up loudly and proudly tell the community how well we were laboring on their behalf.
Anyone who spoke of our busy fire load, outside of the confines of our closely, guarded firehouse world, was smacked heavily by the powers that be. We hid within the walls of our fire stations, waiting for the bell to ring. When the bells began to ring, we went forth to do battle with fire. I can recall a period of time early in 1979 when my engine company responded to a minimum of one working fire every shift (days and nights) from early January right through the spring thaw into late April. We saw a lot of the public, but we did not often interact with them.
To let you know how bad our relations with the public were, one of my interactions involved being knocked unconscious during a response one evening during that period. We were responding to a fire when I was suddenly struck on my right temple by a rock filled ice ball that had been hurled by a local citizen. It passed through the window of our pumper and smacked me on the side of the head. The trip to the fire and then to the hospital is still a bit hazy. But at least I was out there meeting and greeting the people.
To this very day, the City of Newark has not allowed a significant interaction to occur between its fire department and the citizens they are sworn to protect. I have a very strong feeling that the pressure on the Fire Director from city hall is quite strong. How can you hold yourself up year after year as the Renaissance City, if word of your on-going fire problems rarely sees the light of day in the media outlet?
Rather than using public examples of the dedicated service of a great many well-trained fire people to portray a valuable strength of local government, these people are kept as prisoners within the fire fortresses that dot the city?s landscape. What a waste!
In the meantime, the troops are whiling away their time away from the people they are sworn to protect, they also become further isolated from the people they need to meet. Because of the way they are forced to act by the city hall administration, they come to view the people the serve as the enemy.