Empty Fire Stations and Other 21st Century Dilemmas

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...


If a fire department is going to close fire stations, layoff personnel, and shift equipment to more distant locations, I believe it is incumbent upon the people running the department to be as honest as possible. Let me offer an example of how this can be done. People, equipment, and apparatus are finite elements of a department's operating plan. If you have x-number of people, and y-number of fire trucks, you can only get a level of results where x + y = the total capacity of the firefighting system.
 
Lawrence, Massachusetts has closed three fire stations and laid-off an additional 24 personnel. Their Acting Fire Chief, Brian Murphy, has expressed a great concern for what might happen in his older, tightly constructed, old mill community. He noted that response times had risen from a normal three-minute period to upwards of six to seven minutes. However, he has been most candid indeed. There was no hiding or sliding for this man. He has stated his position and intends to stick by it. In a recent article on the Eagle-Tribune.com web site he stated that, "The key is to have an adequate number of firefighters on the scene in a short period of time …"
 
He has stated at recent public meetings that Lawrence risks a major disaster because of last week's layoffs of 23 firefighters and the firehouse closures. He went on to state that, "…We're losing precious minutes in getting to the fire scenes. One of the reasons why firehouses were strategically located throughout the city was to cut down on the time to get to the fire. Seconds actually make a difference between life and death."
 
Let the record show that he did not rant or rave. Rather, he put forward his argument in a straightforward and logical manner. It was not a threat of any kind, it was simply a statement of what he believes the facts to be. He indicated that there are many instances were medic runs are unable to be answered because fire apparatus is tied up on a variety of calls. I guess you really can cut a pie into just so many pieces.
 
Let me close this visit with you by stating quite simply that there is little that we can do in the face of the current rage to cut money. People only have so much money and they really do not want to spend it on fire protection. There is really a good reason for this. How often have you heard the old story about how fire emergencies only happen to the other guy? 
 
Maybe the reason I am so concerned is that I have been the other guy. Twice since I have retired from the Newark Fire Department, my associates from the Adelphia Fire Company have been called to my house to handle fire-related emergencies. Can you see why I might be glad that our fire department is well-trained, well-equipped, properly staffed, and close by? I am not being selfish, I am just being practical. 
 
Perhaps I should not be so hard on the folks who are trying to create new ways of doing business in order to stretch their working capital to the fullest extent possible. Just do not try to BS the public into thinking that they will get the same level of fire protection from a 15-member fire department that they once received from a 35-member agency. At the very least we owe our taxpayers honesty. 
 
Let me close this visit with you by stating quite simply that I must hand it to the chief who was honchoing the computer program to create the part-time fire station program and cover for the closure of two other stations. His candor was both refreshing and somewhat of an understatement. He said that, "…residents … might have slower service." Do you think?