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Fire department resources: We’re heading into a perfect storm

We have less staff, less resources, less understanding of the types of buildings we are responding, plus a lack of sprinkler systems

From The Secret List

I am not aware of any fire department that’s not been hit by the economic problems — we are losing training dollars and losing resources, and we’re even losing a lot of senior firefighters who are getting out when they can as they worry their retirements will be messed with.

What we’re seeing in the fire service today is an erosion of experience and training, and with it the potential quality of firefighters.

We need to have the resources to get the job done, but on the other side of the cutbacks is the fact that we all know that the fires we are responding to today are burning quicker and collapsing quicker.

We know that construction is shoddier. We know these fires are much more dangerous — or we should. And that doesn’t mean we don’t do the job — it means we need to be as best trained and educated as possible.

On top of all this, we are continuing to be beaten down by politics, politicians and by home builders associations using cash and BS to minimize or defeat our opportunities to sprinkle buildings.

2011 should have been a wakeup call to us of a perfect storm that is being created — and in 2012, some fire departments could be heading right into it.

We have less staff, less resources, less understanding of the types of buildings we are responding to and less chance of beating the fire earlier through a lack of sprinkler systems.

This is the perfect storm.

With relation to cut resources, we all need to start to understand that we can only do so much with the resources we have.

I want to get in and go after that fire and do the search, knock the fire down, etc., as much as anyone, but we have to keep in mind that we if don’t have the political support or the public support, whether it’s less funding, less training or support for sprinkler systems, there is only so much we can realistically do.

And that is in addition to the heroic actions we sometimes must take when people may be trapped.

I’m not saying back away — just that we can only do as much as our resources allow us to do. We simply can’t get everything done.

After all, a first alarm fire with 10 firefighters will not and cannot go the same with that same fire getting 25 firefighters. Simple math — no emotion.

However, if training budgets are cut that doesn’t mean you stop training. Everyone has the Internet now, and there’s a lot of information that can be gathered there at no cost.

Also, we all have fire trucks obviously — so get out there and train on the damn equipment we already have.

But when you’re going from a three to four-person engine down to a one to two, then you can’t solve those kinds of problems on the Internet.

I know people get very emotional about this — our oath is to save lives and save property. Thirty-nine years ago, I took the same oath as everyone else did.

But let’s not be stupid. It’s far greater to save a life and less critical to save a property. Anybody who doesn’t understand that is a danger to themselves and others.

I am certainly not going to take a fire crew and put them inside to save someone’s wedding dress when it’s obvious that the lightweight truss house is ready to collapse.

However, if the wearer of the dress is still inside, we will take extreme risks — depending upon conditions and resources.

We can no longer afford to do all the things we could do before, with the loss of resources we are faced with now.

On a final thought, it’s easy when you’re a line firefighter, which all of us have been, to get frustrated when you’re told not to go in or when you want to do what you want to do.

Obviously we all understand when there’s a potential for someone being in inside then we take the needed risks.

But those who are quick to shout, “We should go in no matter what” are those who have never had the responsibility for those who are going inside.

When you’re a command level supervisor, your responsibility is much greater — to those on the fireground and to those in the building. They have to weigh up the stupid risk vs. the necessary risk.

Sometimes firefighters will die in that process. There are times firefighters die doing a job that must be done — but I am not talking about the unnecessary risks, where it’s obvious there are no signs of life and where it’s obvious the building is going to collapse.

Line firefighters who are told not to go inside and to hit it from from the outside instead need to understand that the people making those decisions have (hopefully) been in their shoes as a firefighter.

They may have greyer hair, or even less of it than you, but their experience matters and they’re the ones who have to make the decision.

So, as we head to the New Year, focus on the buildings before they are on fire and training before we have to use it.

And perhaps with that equation, we’ll have a better chance to do the job with success in spite of what the city hall folks have in mind.

Chief Billy Goldfeder, EFO, a firefighter since 1973, serves as deputy fire chief of the Loveland-Symmes (Ohio) Fire Department. He also serves as Lexipol’s senior fire advisor and is a member of the Fire Chief/FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board. Goldfeder is a member of the Board of Directors for several organizations: the IAFC, the September 11th Families Association and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). He also provides expert review assistance to the CDC NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. Goldfeder is the recipient of numerous operational and administrative awards, appointments and recognitions. He has served on several NFPA and IAFC committees, has authored numerous articles and books, and presented several sessions at industry events. Chief Goldfeder co-hosts the website
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