There is no doubt the United States is the most technologically advanced country in the world. Equally unquestionable is the fact the United States has the most aggressive interior structural firefighters in the world. However, the country's fire-related death, injury and dollar-loss rate is the...
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What good are 10 pre-connects on a pumper if you can't reach them from the ground? That $3,000 combination portable monitor/deck gun isn't worth a dime if you can't quickly put it into operation. Why would you put 50-pound foam pails up in the front of the hose bed? Shouldn't they be right next to the pump operator? Why isn't every discharge pre-connected? The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends carrying a 35-foot extension ladder that weighs 125 pounds on engines. It is bad enough we don't have enough people to put it into service, so why do we put it up so high on our apparatus that we need a stepladder just to remove it?
What a radical change in protocol it would be to let firefighters help design their trucks! I bet the hydrant man wants his gates down on the rear step. And the nozzleman wants his line where it can be easily and quickly stretched. Do you think the pump operator who has to draft wants her hard sleeves stored up higher than the lightbar? We teach our "truckies" how to execute a one-person ladder throw in training. Did we design our truck to let one of them remove a ladder by himself or herself? I'll also wager the engine company officer would like a choice of multiple size and length pre-connected lines. Wouldn't a medical compensation board love to see a firefighter attempting to exit a $100,000 cab and chassis wearing an SCBA, carrying a hand lantern, fumbling with an axe and halligan bar and possibly holding his helmet? How many hands will he have for himself? How easy is it for a three-person engine company to repack a supply line? The driver may not have a problem but the two people putting the hose into the bed probably would like a walkway.
The pessimists will scream about the cost of having it your way but times have changed. Ask that medical compensation board how much it would cost if a 30-year-old firefighter slips off a shiny treadplate running board, breaks his or her back and is disabled for life. Invite your key administrators and public officials to the fire station. Ask that 5-foot-2 village board member to pull off and shoulder load a pre-connect that is seven feet in the air. Invite the mayor and the council members to the fire station and let them repack a wet load of supply hose. Have two of the most experienced, and probably the oldest, members of your truck committee individually pull off a length of hard suction or an extension ladder. Have the chief try it. They'll probably see the light. Invite the president of the chamber of commerce or the head of the Rotary Club to the firehouse for a hands-on show-and-tell program. There is a big difference in justifying what you need and asking for what you want.
What impact would compensable injuries have on your insurance and disability costs? Are your career firefighters taking early retirement because they are burned out? Do we lose our volunteers because we inadvertently make their lives miserable and difficult on the fireground because of the trucks we purchase?
There is no doubt every firefighter, career or volunteer, belongs to the ranks because he or she wants to be there. The workload is increasing and the manpower is decreasing. The overburdened fire service is expected to do more with less. Fire apparatus that are sensibly and functionally designed, safety oriented and user friendly will make the job easier.