It is with a great deal of interest that I read about the plans by fire departments across the country to close stations, create part-time fire stations and lay off people. I guess we are once again at that stage of government operations where the health and safety of the public is no longer of any concern. The hue and cry for fiscal reform always tends to drown out the reason needed to properly address these issues.
The sides to this battle are not often in a mood to compromise on any plan that might seem to make them weak in the eyes of their constituents. More than that, forces are at work in our nation which seeks to further divide us all into warring factions. It has long been my personal view that compromise is the essence of success in any type of confrontation. Unfortunately, we are now seeing people who seek the middle ground being kicked to the curb by the hardliners on both sides of the political spectrum.
How can we ever hope to achieve any sort of reform or progress if all parties to the governmental equations are holed up within the walls of their partisan, hard-line forts? When we should be coming together to build bridges, we are confronted with the reality of people whose sole function within the political world seems to be running from place to place and pouring gasoline on any bridge which seems to have even the slightest hope of crossing the chasms which divide us.
My friends, I live in New Jersey. As a resident of the most highly-taxed state in the union, I believe I have a bit of seniority in the game of the municipal crap-shoot. For many years, I served in a fire department where rotational station shutdowns were the name of the game. Each time a working shift would come on duty we were all subject to the roll of the fiscal dice being tossed by the politicians. On many occasions, we were lucky enough to hit a seven when the dice stopped rolling.
I can recall fires which occurred when the first-due companies were in service. As it turned out lives and property were saved in those occasions because the right people and equipment were on duty in the right places. However, there were also a number of times when people were left hanging out of the windows because the first-due truck company was out of service. It is my strong belief that this is no way to run an airline.
Let me give credit where credit is due. After the 2006 election in Newark, New Jersey, the Mayor appointed Dave Giordano to the position of fire director. He had the full support of the mayor. One of the tasks he accomplished during the first year of his service was to permanently shut down a number of companies and redistribute the personnel. No longer were the citizens subjected to the risk created by the luck of the draw. No one likes to see a smaller agency, but these things happen. However, it is important to create as solid an operational model as possible.
Some fire departments have taken a new tack on this issue. Rather than shutting stations or conducting blackouts, or rotating shutdowns, they are using technology to toss the dice. I read a news story the other day about a fire department which is using an expensive computer system to shoot the dice on their behalf. They have gone so far as to create what they are calling a part-time station. I have to give them credit, I had never even thought of creating a fire station which is only staffed when the computer says it should be covered.
Rather than simply creating a solid, predictable roll of the dice, this computer program will seek to outguess fires and medical emergencies. As a younger man, I spent a great deal of time at our volunteer ambulance station shooting darts. At least my friends and I had the benefit of tossing the steel-tipped missiles at a stationary target. This new program will attempt to shoot darts at a target which is moving at all times. Am I missing something here?