Trump wins: The elephant in the firehouse dayroom

The fire service has many questions heading into Jan. 20, but one big question can very well dictate how the others play out


There are a great many more questions than answers surrounding what President-elect Trump will do once he takes office next January.

And there's good reason for this.

His campaign was light on policy details. And when details were shared, they were often criticized as undoable by liberal, moderate and conservative subject experts.

President-elect Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech during his election night rally in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
President-elect Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech during his election night rally in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

There's also the gulf separating what candidates say on the campaign trail and what they do in the oval office — regardless of the party they represent.

The questions from the campaign about how a President Trump would influence the fire service are the same as they were in July. The issues of grant funding, firefighter health and safety, wildland fire protection and medical call volume and billing are still big question marks. You can toss into that mix the future roles of such agencies as FEMA and the U.S. Fire Administration.

But the real elephantine question in the room is how will the Trump administration and the new Congress impact the U.S. and global economies? That outcome may well dictate how the other issues play out — as the head goes, so goes the body.

The Great Recession that we are still recovering from hit fire departments especially hard. Drops in municipal tax income led to career departments laying off firefighters and leaving vacancies unfilled. Some volunteer departments had to close shop over lost funding.

Departments also delayed purchasing everything from new fire stations, to rigs, all the way down to needed turnout gear. And many of them eliminated or reduced services like fire prevention and fire inspections.

Worst-case scenario
These cutbacks all negatively impact firefighters' ability to come home safe after each call and effectively protect their communities.

Compounding recessionary funding cuts are increases in calls for service. Recessions push those households who are just getting by into poverty. And this is an equal-opportunity force that doesn't care if the household is in a rural or urban setting.

Studies show a correlation between poverty and increased use of EMS, risk of urban fires, risk of rural fires and risk of wildland-urban interface fires. Increased poverty will also lead to more crime and more civil unrest, both put firefighters and medics at greater peril and drain precious resources.

To be clear, a Trump victory does not guarantee a new recession. There are way too many factors in play to make that call.

We don't know what his cabinet will look like, how much he will listen to his advisors, what his priorities will be or how he will work with Congress. We don't know who will sit at the head of key Senate and House committees. And we don't know if the economic plans he puts in motion will work.

Yet several economists, including those from the libertarian Cato Institute and the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, fear that if Trump is able to push through much of what he proposed on the campaign trail, a new recession is inevitable.

In short, they say that his proposed high tariffs would kick off a trade war and that massive tax cuts without spending cuts — coupled with major infrastructure and military spending — would lead to huge deficits and debt.

Some believe the massive infrastructure spending and tax cuts will provide economic growth — similar to stimulus measures used during our last recession. But, they say, that growth is likely to be temporary.

How the short- and long-term economy plays out under our newly elected government isn't the only question firefighters need to concern themselves with, but it is the largest question. 

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