Last week's story of the New York town supervisor who took issue with two volunteer departments using a truck and crew to stage a marriage proposal is worth a closer look.
In short, volunteer firefighters rolled up to a business with lights and sirens and evacuated one business. Once outside, one employee found her boyfriend holding a "will you marry me" sign. The stunt had the blessing of both fire chiefs.
One out-going town supervisor raised a stink over it and drew the attention of local media. His concerns fell pretty much under whether it was a good use of municipal equipment, if the firefighters could have responded to a real emergency, and what would happen if they wrecked the truck.
It doesn't take long to put those concerns to bed, as many of our readers did in the story's comment section.
As volunteer firefighters, those participating were arguably more ready to respond from the proposal scene than from home. And the risk of crashing was no greater than during training or even refueling the trucks. At least one reader rightly pointed out that the stunt was a good chance to practice driving skills.
Then there's the murky waters of is this an appropriate use of public property? Never mind that the volunteers make little if any money — one could argue that the firefighters should not have special access to things like fire trucks for their personal use.
The supervisor pointed out that uses like carting Santa to a tree-lighting ceremony or escorting high school football teams is for the public good — not for the good of a privileged individual.
As a firefighter, I'm OK with volunteers having a perk or two. And I admire both fire chiefs for standing up to this criticism. But I can see how Joe Citizen would take exception to that perk.
So, let's flip the situation around.
What if fire departments made such private uses available to everyone — for a fee?
Want to make your kid's birthday or first day of school special, or surprise grandma and grandpa on their anniversary? Why not rent a fire truck and crew (Yes, I'm purposely avoiding the bachelorette party example.)?
It may sound ridiculous, but why not set up an availability schedule — like those for fire station tours — a list of safety rules, and a clear understanding of what happens if the tone drops during the event.
This is not a policy that can be enacted overnight. But with careful planning, it could provide fun for the community and much-needed cash for struggling fire departments — and be less gaudy than the advertisements painted on some rigs.
Had such a policy been in place in New York, maybe the firefighters could have chipped in to buy a town supervisor a special escort out of office.