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Recently, my mutual aid association held a drill about rail incidents on a busy rail line where numerous 100-plus-car trains travel each day. Bakken crude oil and liquefied propane gas (LPG) are among the hazardous materials being transported routinely. Federal regulations issued require rail carriers to notify states where trains carrying 1 million gallons of crude oil are passing through. After the drill, I was told that the exercise raised many new questions regarding evacuation communications, strategy and tactics, water supply, exposures and Office of Emergency Management procedures. Will responders be fighting a fire while addressing concerns about water/oil runoff and exhausting their existing water supplies? Dealing with the abundant and increasing amount of oil being transported across the country provides some interesting discussion for decision makers.
The fire service, from the first unit on the scene of any type of incident, decides whether to operate in an aggressive, offensive manner or take a defensive position. Many factors go into making this decision. Some prove to be right and some turn out wrong. The effect of that decision can sometimes prove fatal. Can the building be saved? Is there a life hazard? What are we trying to do? Recently, I drove past the former location of a Hackensack, NJ, car dealership where five firefighters died in the collapse of a wooden bow-string truss roof on July 1, 1988. Today, cars are parked on that site and the members who were killed are remembered on a monument a few blocks away. Was that building worth the lives of five firefighters?
Many departments are saving lives by responding to EMS calls. One person said I grew up in the time of fire, he grew up in the time of hazmat and now it’s the time of EMS. That is the way the cycle seems to be going. Today, firefighters respond to all types of emergencies and save more lives than ever. EMS is saving lives as well as jobs and entire departments. Think about it: If we didn’t respond to all the EMS incidents and unusual emergencies to which we are called, why would the public need us? We still perform a live-saving function, just under a new set of circumstances.
Whether you wear a white uniform shirt or a blue T-shirt, regardless of what patch is on your sleeve, the color of your apparatus or which state you are from, what matters is getting all the education and training you can. The fire service continually keeps up with new threats, problems and potential life-threatening situations. Wherever there is a major traffic accident, a school shooting or other emergency, fire apparatus and fire department ambulances are on the scene, working hand in hand with law enforcement and other agencies in a leading or support role. Times are changing.