Do you have any idea when it will be time to consider a merger between fire departments in order to provide better fire protection for your community? Let me suggest that the first step comes when you look around and finally notice the true state of affairs in your fire department. Where are the people and where are the fire trucks? I noted this phenomenon at a recent multiple-alarm fire.
Compared to the crowds we encountered at a major fire, there were really a lot fewer people than there once might have been. But how will you really know when it is your turn? Let me suggest that some form of a learning curve is involved here. We need to study the new reality in our communities and come up with ways to keep the fire trucks rolling with enough people to get the job done properly and safely. I am speaking of population growth (or loss). I am referring to new construction (or the lack thereof).
Let me now suggest to you that with a bit of luck, each of us gets to learn something new every day. Sometimes a couple of new facts scamper up to us and we are able to absorb them in a calm and non-threatening manner. However, there are those situations where the new knowledge comes crashing down on your head like a building collapsing after being ravaged by fire.
The other day, I had one of those moments when a sneaky little bit of knowledge came into my life at the local food store where I have shopped for nearly 40 years now. I was chatting with a long-time buddy from the Freehold Fire Department. He and I spent a great deal of time discussing a number of pressing issues facing their 138-year-old volunteer fire department. I will not bother you with all of the details, but I can assure you that they are experiencing some changes that are truly life altering.
As we were parting, my friend said to me that he too had recently learned something new. When I asked him to share it with me it came down to a very simple, but quite logical statement. He told me that, "…there are many people who tell you that they are all in favor of progress, as long as it does not involve change." What a telling bit of advice that is. People are all for ideas, as long as they are not bothered by having to change their way of doing business.
Let me assure you that there are many topics within the fire service that are strictly lightning rod issues. In each case you will hear people tell you that they are all in favor of the progress which new equipment, methods, and procedures will bring. Then when the changes necessary to achieve this progress are outlined, by golly, they attack them like there is no tomorrow. So it is with the idea of merging fire departments.
Let me assure you that you can always count on me not to shy away from issues that have that sort of effect. Life is always throwing a new set of challenges to us poor fire service types. You cannot always continue doing things like your ancestors did when they joined your fire department back in the 1940's and 1950's. Times change and society evolves. These things do not always happen for the better.
There is an issue out there in the world right now which is critical to the future success of our fire service. It involves the concept of merging fire departments and their operations. Perhaps my words to you in this commentary will be popular and maybe they will incite anger amongst many of you. Unfortunately, someone has to step up to the plate and say what needs to be said.
My record on combining, merging, and sharing services goes back quite a number of years. Many years ago my firm provided advice to a number of communities around the State of New Jersey. I believe that a number of such tidbits of advice were offered in the mid to late 1990's. Basically I was recommending the creation of what I called "Regional Fire Authorities."