Prepare for 'unthinkable' changes to the fire service

Those seemingly ludicrous scenarios for how the fire service may be organized need to be taken seriously

While banging around our different Facebook pages this weekend, I came across one of those lists for living a better life. You know the lists; they give you several hard-to-argue-with examples of why not to sweat the small stuff and not to take things for granted.

One such item tells you not to worry about things that haven't happened. That made me cringe.

I suspect the meaning is to not be paralyzed by worry. Yet it can just as easily be taken to mean there's no point in preparing for the unlikely.

For a variety of reasons, I'm an unlikely candidate for a heart attack. Still, I'd be a fool not to take preventative steps.

Even more unlikely was a question recently posed over Quora asking if the day will ever come when all career fire departments are replaced by volunteers. You can read the response and add your own here.

I enjoy being a volunteer firefighter and strongly believe that volunteers around the world offer a tremendous service to their communities. That aside, it seems ludicrous that cities like Chicago, Boston or Prague would ever have to rely on volunteers.

But what about cities in the 100,000 to 250,000 population range? I would think those departments are a good deal more vulnerable, and some have already converted.

It is also unlikely that when a tone drops in a volunteer fire department, no one will show up. Yet there's the story of Washington Park, Ill., firefighter Dontay Brooks taking on a fully involved structure fire alone for more than half an hour before help arrived.

Make no mistake, public support for firefighting is eroding — for both career and volunteer firefighting. People don't want to volunteer and they don't want to pay for career departments.

Large and small community-relations efforts can shift public opinion. That is important. More importantly, at least immediately, is finding and backing elected officials who have the guts to stand behind firefighters despite waning public support.

Those who set budgeting priorities need the same conviction as firefighter Dontay Brooks had when he stood alone protecting an exposed structure until help arrived.

Like that house, the fire service is exposed and vulnerable. And if we adapt a "don't worry about what hasn't happened" attitude, we will raise the likelihood that it will. 

About the author

Rick Markley is editor-in-chief of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, a volunteer firefighter and fire investigator. He serves on the board of directors of and is actively involved with the International Fire Relief Mission, a humanitarian aid organization that delivers unused fire and EMS equipment to firefighters in developing countries. He holds a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's of fine arts. He has logged more than 15 years as an editor-in-chief and written numerous articles on firefighting. He can be reached at

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