The evolution in the role of the contemporary fire department that has occurred in recent years is well understood by members of the fire service. Unfortunately, the expanded mission of most contemporary fire departments has not been fully understood and/or comprehended by the fire department's stakeholders.
Perhaps that is because these stakeholders have not taken the time to learn about the expanded roles and responsibilities of their fire departments, or perhaps we, in the fire service, have dropped the ball and not educated those who live in, work in or travel through our fire districts regarding the scope of the services that our organizations deliver. Does your fire department have an extensive public education program? Do you incorporate in your public education initiatives an educational message about the services provided by your fire department?
Throughout my 30 years in the fire service, I have witnessed this evolution in the mission of the contemporary fire department. I have lived through the implementation of advances in emergency medical services, hazardous materials response, vehicle and specialized rescue, and numerous other aspects of our fire department operations that are today considered commonplace. We have come a long way in a "short" 30 years, but our progress has been evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.
Several years ago we were told of the need for fire departments and other emergency response organizations to prepare for the terrorist threats that we might face. The World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, as well as a number of other less publicized incidents, illuminated the potential for terrorism within our nation. While most of us understood the potential severity of this threat, we perhaps had a comfort level based on a belief that were such events to occur, they would hopefully be infrequent occurrences.
So much for wishful thinking. The events that began on September 11, 2001 have clearly demonstrated vulnerabilities of communities, both large and small, to a variety of terrorist attacks. The horrific and tragic events of recent weeks have caused us to rethink our concept of weapons of mass destruction and to realize that domestic and/or international terrorists can mount their attacks on our communities and thus our nation through the various means described in the terrorism awareness courses that we began to teach several years ago.
For years, advocates of the fire service have advanced the role of the fire service as our nation's domestic defenders as suggested by Congressman Curt Weldon. You will recall that our "fire service" member of Congress also encouraged us to take our case to Washington when he talked about awakening the sleeping giant. We have been and continue to do that; unfortunately those terrorists who would seek to challenge out basic freedoms have recently made our case for us at the local, state and federal levels.
An elected official or member of the public would have had to have been in a coma or sequestered for the past two months, to not realize the role of the contemporary fire service as our nation's first responders to a multitude of emergencies including terrorist attacks and suspected anthrax letters. The events of the past two months must accurately be described as revolutionary.
Fire departments across our nation, whether volunteer, combination or career, have continued their longstanding traditions of always being there for their communities. Our fire departments are there in the best times such as when we participate in the local Memorial Day parade, as well as in the worst of times when we attempt to rescue a trapped child from the upper floors of a burning structure. As bad as those days are, the events of the last two months have taught us the real meaning of a "bad day."