Obviously I don't know where you live. But if you read my bio at the bottom of this article, you'll know where I am. I'm pretty sure, however, that no matter where you reside, the economy is not that great for you or your fire department. And, depending on the level of grim prediction you choose to believe, it's likely not going to get better in the near future.
We don't need to look back that far in history to find clear connections between what we do and the economic viability of our communities. The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York is only a year away. If you do not know about that fire, and how it helped create the United States' Department of Labor, and propel Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the hearts and minds of the Labor movement, you really should do. More than 140 garment workers died in the fire, which led to legislation requiring improved factory safety.
Economic downturns are, of course, not new to our country or our fire service. However, they have much in common from generation to generation. No answer is foolproof for each issue, but each time we endeavor to answer these issues, we do increase the safety from fire for both citizens and of course ourselves. Issues such as abandoned property, arson, code enforcement, training and staffing have once again created pressure on fire departments across this nation.
Abandoned property, whether due to foreclosure or abandonment, is widespread throughout the country and has created huge issues for fire departments. These properties pose inherent dangers, which are exacerbated by a lack of local policy and support to help fire departments deal with these hazards. These dangers are compounded with time. Left to fester, they also draw down on the tax base as a whole, creating greater blight and more problems.
Cutting corners As people struggle to deal with their financial difficulties, we will also see business cut safety corners. Overcrowded work areas, apartments with too many residents and even people forced into homelessness all take a toll on the human, financial and operational resources of our local organizations. No organization is left untouched, even if the impact is minimal.
We must also realize that as families are faced with financial difficulties, the ability for people to volunteer in their local departments may become strained to its maximum. Losing volunteers in a community clearly must be a concern for our elected officials. Underpaid career staff, even if they are privileged enough to work one of the best jobs in the world, feel the pinch and it has an impact on them and their families.
This all highlights the fact that every fire department must convey to its elected officials and citizens the vital role we play in the economies of our communities. We keep Main Street open, business running and tax money rolling in. We keep families in their homes, close to work and focused on the business of getting America up and running.
We keep people healthy and provide them with support in some of their greatest hours of need. Although our business is clearly one of serving citizens, it is also very much that of economic savior for our communities. That role is something no other public agency comes close to playing, and we don't convey that enough.
More than 100 years ago, civic and business leaders, legislators and insurance carriers all recognized that America couldn't expand without protecting business and homes from fires. Somewhere we lost that — I think it's time to repeat history and find it again.
About the author
Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.
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