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This has to be the case, or why else would they budget fire departments, both major and minor, as though they were neighborhood candy stores? We can debate the number of engine and truck companies necessary. But once the debate is over, someone has to come up with the bucks to get the job done. The same is true with communications and a whole host of other operational areas.
Training is another area where we know that the dollars flow quite slowly. This division is treated as though there was a magic river of knowledge which ran past the training division. Whenever fire personnel wanted to learn, they merely dipped their glasses into the river and drank deeply from that heady draft. You would think this if you saw some of their budgets, which barely cover buying bulbs for their projectors and duct tape to repair their old screens. And heaven help the poor training officer who mumbles the words "computer-generated graphics."
Given that many fire departments are being asked to do more with less, the two areas which can stand the least cutting involve equipment and training. We all know that less is more when it comes to staffing. That makes it critical for every person who is left to do the job to have the best equipment available and the best training possible. Since every person is being called on to do more, he or she must know more. And knowledge comes at a price.
But you know, there is something else which comes with a higher price tag. It is called "ignorance." And the price of ignorance involves injury, death and destruction. This means that if you are the trainer, be prepared to fight for the dollars. It also means that you will need to inform public officials of the consequences of their actions. And more importantly, you need to make your case known to the community, for it is the citizens of your community whom you really serve.
Unfortunately, you will probably be met with a stony silence. For if these people really knew what we were talking about, they would gladly fork over the change to train the fire troops. Ah, but then they would have to take a few bucks away from the police, and, as we all know, crime is rampant. Remember that fire always happens to someone else, or so the public usually thinks.
While you work to put your plans together, just remember my friend the plumber. It took him 10 years to arrive at his goal. But he had a vision. That vision led to a plan. And through hard work and dedication, the goals which made up that plan were met, and that plan came to fruition. When I call with a problem, he has the answer for me.
Are you ready for that next call from your firefighters? You can be if you have:
- A vision.
- A plan.
- A purpose.
- The guts to get the job done.
People's lives rest in the palm of your hands. Never forget this.
Dr. Harry R. Carter, a Firehouse® contributing editor, recently retired as a battalion commander with the Newark, NJ, Fire Department, where he also served as chief of training. He is also a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia, NJ, Fire Department. Dr. Carter is an Associate of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain (AIFireE).