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Firehouse Funnies
by Will Wyatt

If inmates can be firefighters, why can't they be cops?

Two bizarre stories in recent weeks saw one department shed its EMS equipment and a proposal by one county to use firefighting inmates

By Will Wyatt

Well, here we go again.

From the state that couldn't punch presidential election ballots and the city that brought us KC and the Sunshine Band, the Hialeah, Fla., Fire Department is on the endangered species list.

It sounds like a big mess as usual. There is a mayoral election going on, the city wants to lay off a hundred and some firefighters by next year and cut the department by 40 percent.

The word Hialeah comes from a Muskogee word, meaning pretty prairie. And it might soon be that again with the cuts being made.

The city even went to the extreme measure of taking paramedic equipment off of the city's pumpers in an effort to save money. It was subsequently returned, with the Chief calling it a "misunderstanding" following a brainstorming session.

Regardless, I did some research. Being given the impression that the city has put a price tag on saving lives, I couldn't help being struck by the observation that according to the city website, Hialeah has a residential population of 236,000 but a daytime of population of 336,000.

Why not just resuscitate residents? These extra daytime 100,000 people are just visitors. So if you are a resident, make sure you have a water bill or other proof of residency with you at all times.

In another cost saving-measure, apparently the city only updates the website every 20 years. It says the HFD responded to 27,800 calls in 1998.

The McDonald's challenge
Back to the 40 percent cut in fire department staffing. Of course the city is confident there will be no effects on safety. I am skeptical of that.

So, to obtain subjective quantitative research data, I have donned my white lab coat and headed into town to begin a comprehensive study on the impact of a 40 percent cut in the workforce in the private sector. (I wonder if FireRescue1 will reimburse my mileage…)

I arrived at the local McDonald's at lunch. Mickey D's has nine assigned personnel on duty. Two work the counter and two the drive-through window. That leaves four in the kitchen assembling burgers and the final person frying freedom fries.

A 40 percent reduction leaves us with five. That is only enough to cover the counter, the drive-through windows and one person cooking.

Not going to work. So, we would have to divide up the people and reduce the counter and window people, allowing more people to cook. And, they might only be able to concentrate on burgers and fries. The extras, like apple pies, may need to be scrapped.

But the problem in Hialeah is the men and women who staff the fire department are not selling hot apple pies. They are trying to stay alive while protecting lives and property.

But wait, it gets better
Just to the West of Florida, in the southern fried state of Georgia, the forward thinkers in Camden County are considering using prisoners from the local prison to staff the fire department. Now here's an idea.

The county leaders predict this idea could save $500 million annually. The prisoners work for free and don't need a day off after working a 24-hour shift like the greedy, unreasonable firemen.

I see nothing about training costs in this aside from the training of the firefighters to be prison guards. Oh goody, just what I always wanted to be. Me as a prison guard — that has sitcom written all over it.

In addition, I think a person has to have a certain amount of training in SCBA before they are exposed to live fire as per NFPA standards. Unless they are using death row inmates and then I guess it doesn’t matter since they won’t be around too long anyway.

Continuing with our food theme: Who is feeding the prisoners? The firefighters? The county? Just curious.

A lot of people have raised concerns about the trustworthiness of the said prisoners, and I guess there is some validity to that.

The problem that I have with this is why the fire department? If this is such a good idea, why not save money all over the county?

The police department to me is a natural fit. What better way to fight the criminal element than with the criminal element? Let's hand a convicted felon a gun and the keys to a souped-up Dodge Charger and turn them loose.

They probably know a lot of known and wanted criminals already. I think it actually lowers the crime rate.

"Give me your wallet!"
Think about it. Would you be inclined to engage in a criminal activity or break traffic laws if in the back of your mind you could envision a police car pulling up, the police officer getting out and pointing a gun at you and saying, "Give me your wallet!" I wouldn't.

What convicted peeping Tom worth his salt wouldn't jump at the chance to be a meter reader? The day they hand out city pool life guard assignments there will be a riot in the sex offenders' wing.

Camden County officials are quoted as saying the prisoners are very enthusiastic about the program. YA' THINK!? I am resisting the temptation to say this is the stupidest thing I have ever heard because next month some city government somewhere would make me get on here and eat my words.

How did we get here? I think a lot of this is because the powers that be have figured out who we are. We are the American fire service. We come, we see and we kick butt.

No matter how bad a hand we are dealt, we make it work. We take risks and chances to help others because the kids that run out and watch us roar by expect us to be there and save them. And we do no matter what. Maybe we should start saying we don’t have any hot apple pies today.

On a better note, thanks for all the e-mailed fire truck pictures in response to my earlier column. I really enjoyed looking at them and it's nice to know I am not alone…

About the author

Will Wyatt, who is originally from New Orleans, has been in the fire service for 25 years. Will currently works as an engineer/operator at the Village Fire Department in the Houston, Texas, area. Will also works part time at another fire department and part time at a 911 emergency medical service. He has held numerous ranks with fire departments in the Houston area including full time training officer, fire marshal and deputy chief. Will holds a master fire fighter certification with the State of Texas, an instructor certification, pump operator certification, an associate degree from Houston Community College and a basic EMT certification. Recently will authored a book on the fire service entitled, "And a Paycheck, Too!" Check out an excerpt here. Contact Will at Will.Wyatt@firerescue1.com.



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