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Taking care of our own must start at home

Why do we care more about ensuring the firehouse grass is sprinklered than the firehouse itself?


Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department/X

As I went through the building process in recent years, I watched as all the trades made their parade through the neighborhood. After the trades came the inspectors who, in this larger development, would complete many inspections daily. To expedite the communication process, they came up with a check mark system that would give project managers a quick snapshot of the various inspection statuses.

Spray-painted on the garage side of the home, a red check mark next to a location code was a failure that needed immediate attention, a black check mark meant everything was good to go, and the black check over top a red check meant the problem was fixed and passed a subsequent inspection. County inspectors were relentless with those life-safety and building-code issues, with several houses failing as many as 18 inspections, some multiple times. (Note: This wasn’t as much a contractor-quality problem as it was a universal labor quality problem during the COVID crisis.)

For me as a homebuyer, while it was disheartening to see the seemingly dysfunctional contractor crisis manifest in our new homes, it was heartening to know that the local inspectors were painstakingly diligent amongst the onslaught of southwest Florida construction projects. At least our county strongly enforced the Life Safety Code, making sure that things like interconnected electric smoke alarms/carbon monoxide detectors with 10-year lithium backup batteries were installed as required by code.

While it was somewhat disheartening to me that the state of Florida has not adopted residential sprinkler legislation (nor have 47 other states), I was happy to learn that I could get a discount/credit on my local “fire fee” if I had residential sprinklers. However, I was disheartened again when my builder not only didn’t offer sprinklers, but also would not allow me to pre-install sprinklers. In fact, I could not even lay loose PVC pipe into the attic. I get their concern of damage, theft and liability – I don’t agree with it or like it – but my disagreement really didn’t matter on a piece of property for which I technically didn’t yet have the title. I installed the sprinklers after the fact, costing triple what a new install would have cost. Nevertheless, I am doing my part to make it safer for our family and our local firefighters who might be called to our home.

Our firehouse homes

As we, as future homeowners, endured this process, it reminded me how little attention we pay to our other homes. No, not second homes or “snowbird” rentals; I mean our fire and EMS stations – the places many of us spend nearly half of our lives.

We talk a LOT about our “other home” and our “other family” in the fire service. We reminisce about our experiences together, and we yearn to welcome more members into our “other family.” I love the sense of family that the fire service envelopes, likely replicated in concept by only one other service group, that of a deployed military experience.

At the fire service level, what level of attention are we paying to the fire and life safety of our families? In many cases, beautiful NEW edifices of fire stations have the latest NFPA-compliant built-ins, not only separating occupants from dirty/contaminated areas of the station but also providing state-of-the-art detection and suppression equipment throughout the facility.

It is extremely unfortunate to report that more often than not those edifices are NOT the true representation of how WE treat or take care of our personnel. I’ve traveled across the country and witnessed the hypocrisy amongst us – by political proxy, me included.

Fire stations without fire detection and suppression were at one time fully acceptable; after all, we were the fire department and could take care of ourselves. How naïve (or complicit) we were – and in some cases still are.

I mentioned earlier how, by political proxy, I blame myself as well. Many elected officials STILL think of fire stations as simple warehouses – one politician repeatedly downplayed my request to modernize new facilities that would require firefighters and paramedics to reside 24 hours a day. His response was that “the firehouse is nothing more than a house with a big garage.” His rationale was that the state doesn’t require sprinklers in houses, so why should we require them in firehouses? For me, there was also some hypocrisy in that I wasn’t advocating for the same code compliance at existing stations. Granted, concern was minimized because most of the facilities had no sleeping arrangements and depended fully on home response. Even so, in most cases, we didn’t even have a smoke alarm system – monitored or not, let alone a building sprinkler system. Now the grass, well, we have to make sure the grass has sprinklers because it might die – more hypocrisy.

Similar conversations are happening with politicians all over the country. A recent public debate involving exhaust capture systems made headlines following disagreements between paid and volunteer members within the system. The reality of that situation is that the department is playing catchup to provide protected and monitored spaces for personnel. The solution will come in time, hopefully before another tragedy strikes.

Making it personal

Just days ago, we reported on Los Angeles County firefighters being awakened by neighbors knocking on doors and windows, alerting them of a fire in the firehouse bay. Just weeks before that, we reported on a North Carolina ladder truck that caught fire while sitting in the fire station. It was reported that an alarm awakened sleeping firefighters – that’s a start. We also reported on a Maryland ambulance that caught fire while sitting in a fire station. Those personnel were awakened by a battery-powered smoke alarm IN their sleeping area (hey, that’s at least something!). They could have had earlier notice had there been any monitoring in the apparatus bay.

We must embrace the movement that takes our concern for our family BEYOND TALK. In 2024, there is NO excuse for anyone sleeping in unprotected and unmonitored spaces, especially the people who are charged with protecting our communities from these exact dangers!

Similarly, there is NO excuse for fire chiefs not feverishly advocating for residential sprinklers in their communities. We know that we could prevent more than 3,000 fire-related deaths EVERY year. In my 43-year career, that’s 129,000 people who would not have died in fires.

As we advocate for these life-saving measures for residents in our communities, remember that the firehouse is part of that community, and your firefighters and paramedics are your residents too!

Chief Marc S. Bashoor joined the Lexipol team in 2018, serving as the FireRescue1 and Fire Chief executive editor and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board. With 40 years in emergency services, Chief Bashoor previously served as public safety director in Highlands County, Florida; as chief of the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Fire/EMS Department; and as emergency manager in Mineral County, West Virginia. Chief Bashoor assisted the NFPA with fire service missions in Brazil and China, and has presented at many industry conferences and trade shows. He has contributed to several industry publications. He is a National Pro-board certified Fire Officer IV, Fire Instructor III and Fire Instructor. Connect with Chief Bashoor at on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Do you have a leadership tip or incident you’d like to discuss? Send the chief an email.