Flashbacks and Other Interesting Events: Fire – Then and Now

What an interesting week we have just witnessed in the world of fire in America. First we saw the impact of fire on the City of Detroit, Michigan. A serious windstorm struck that ailing industrial city. The wind downed a large number of wires and fires...


What an interesting week we have just witnessed in the world of fire in America. First we saw the impact of fire on the City of Detroit, Michigan. A serious windstorm struck that ailing industrial city. The wind downed a large number of wires and fires began to break out all around town. The media delivered picture after picture of the fire devastation which came from the wind-driven fires. I saw pictures of roaring blazes being fought by a minimal numbers of equipment.
 
The demands of this fire were great, possibly well beyond the capability of the Detroit Fire Department as it exists in 2010. This thought was confirmed by the fact that outside companies were called in the city for the first time in many years. In the wake of these fires, a bit of fingering pointing began. Of course this is to be expected whenever widespread destruction comes about as a result of a large-scale fire.
 
Accusations were made that cuts in the fire department were to blame for the fire getting out of control. Needless to say, I saw the Mayor of that city tell the world on Fox News that everything was fine and that this was quite simply a natural disaster. Well, the wind might have been natural, but this was not a natural disaster; you know, like floods, and earthquakes. This was a terrible disaster, made worse by the wind and the questionable response by the power company. But there is nothing new about that is there? And perhaps a much smaller Detroit Fire Department.
 
Let me ask a couple of questions here. You know me folks. I like to stir the pot in pursuit of knowledge. I ask these questions to guide the thinking within the fire service, as it pertained to the manner in which we work to fight these major fires.
 
1.                  Was there a written mutual aid plan to guide the deployment of specific units from outside communities?
2.                  Were there standard mutual aid response protocols?
3.                  Had the outside fire agencies ever conducted drills with the troops from Detroit?
4.                  Was there a defined Incident Command System in place to guide the control of the operation as it grew in scope and magnitude?
 
I do not know the answers to these questions. Given the state of fire protection forces in such aging, rust belt communities as Detroit, I can only guess at the level of fire protection versus the level of risk the fire department is being asked to protect. Heck, given the cuts being inflicted on fire departments in major cities across our nation, I can only guess at the gaps which exist between what we need and what is provided. 
 
The cost of doing business in our cities is one of the great conundrums of this the 21st Century. Let me say a word about another gap which you and I face each day as we scramble to provide fire protection in our communities. It is the gap between what the citizens expect you and me to provide and the amount of money they are willing to spend for us to do this. They want the moon and then give us enough money for a day trip to Newark.
 
Anyway, enough about now; let me speak about a time long-gone. After viewing destruction caused by this swath of wind-driven devastation in the Motor City, I rose up from my recliner and moved out to my thinking chair on the front porch.  I needed to ponder what I had just witnessed. I wanted to digest the facts within the crucible of history. 
 
 As the smoke from another one of my favorite cigars wafted out across my front lawn, my mind began to slowly drift back to the old days. The images from Detroit began to intermingle with the images from my days as a member of the Newark, New Jersey Fire Department. Many were the fires that my buddies and I fought in our state's biggest city. Let me lay out the parameters of my historical knowledge, as best I can recall it. 
 
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