Close Calls: Speaking THEIR Language While Operating in OUR World

Each year, I take one opportunity to use this column for opinion, as opposed to a “close call” case study. As always, we have plenty to share in 2012 and will return to our usual format in March. Your department’s close call is welcome as a...


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Each year, I take one opportunity to use this column for opinion, as opposed to a “close call” case study. As always, we have plenty to share in 2012 and will return to our usual format in March. Your department’s close call is welcome as a submission. I work with departments to ensure the facts are presented so others may learn. To submit a close call, please contact me at BillyG@Firefighterclosecalls.com. This month, however, I wanted to pass along some thoughts I hope will be of value.

I’ve always been one to react emotionally to any harm toward a fire department or firefighters. It usually works well when talking with firefighters – it’s the non-firefighters who never seem to get it. It took me a while to figure that out, despite numerous warning signs. Ignoring emotion in a business where people lose people isn’t always easy.

The emotion that we share comes from the bad stuff we experience as firefighters, but elected officials and others do not. I am not aware of any fire department that has not been hit by economic problems – we are losing people, training dollars and resources, and we’re even losing a lot of senior firefighters who are “getting out” when they can, fearing their retirements will be messed with. What we’re seeing in the fire service now is an erosion of experience and training, and with it the potential quality of firefighters. Departments need resources to get the job done, but on the other side of the cutbacks is the fact that we all know that many of the fires we are responding to today are burning quicker and buildings are collapsing quicker. We know these fires are much more dangerous – or we should.

That doesn’t mean we don’t do the job. It means we need to be as best trained and educated as possible and match that with the resources we have and the conditions we encounter. We need to be really good at basic tasks such as size-up (the basis for everything we do), forced entry, search and especially getting water on the fire. What does it take to get water on the fire in any building your company may respond to? What’s the plan? How much water will be needed? How will it get done and how many firefighters are realistically needed to get that done? How long will it take? What is needed to make it take less?

On top of all this, we are continuing to be beaten down by politics, politicians and local and national home builders associations using lies to minimize or defeat our opportunities to sprinkler buildings. Events in 2011 should have been a wake-up call to us of a perfect storm that is being created – and in 2012, some fire departments could be heading right into it. Many have less staffing, fewer resources, less understanding of the types of buildings we are responding to and less chance of beating the fire earlier through a lack of sprinkler systems.

Doing “more with less” may work for the parks department or sanitation, but how it works for fire departments depends on conditions, existing resources, pre-fire preparedness and training. Actually, fire departments have always done more with less. Those watching us just thought it was our norm. We have always gone above and beyond; it is well documented. Now it’s even more, with even less, or so they are asking. With relation to cut resources, we (and “they”) all need to understand that we can only do so much with the resources we have. And a typical fire department’s “so much” is much more than any other local government resource. We know it. They know it. But they need to understand the facts from us – without emotion. Not easy.

 

How much more can

firefighters do “with less”?

We all want to crawl down the hall, do the search and knock down the fire, but we have to keep in mind that if we don’t have the political or public support to give us what is minimally needed, whether it’s funding, training or support for sprinkler systems, there is only so much we can do. We can only do as much as our resources and physical ability let us do. And that’s with us already going “above and beyond.”

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