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Hard Times for ’09

Financial Crisis and the Fire Service
FireRescue1’s Year in Review 2008

Photo Ron Trout/
Protesters gather outside a Philadelphia firehouse last month after the city’s mayor announced cutbacks.

My article at this time last year was titled “2008: The year without a firefighter fatality!” It aimed to energize our abilities as a profession to reduce firefighter fatalities through the continued improvement in firefighter fitness, training and equipment development. Sadly, at time of writing, the current number of firefighters lost this year is 108, one of our worst years ever.

But as I lie awake wondering if we will ever get to a 50 percent reduction of firefighter deaths by 2014, my mind turns to the most recent monster hiding under the firefighter’s bed of concerns.

With the recent stock market crash (or downturn as the PC people prefer to label it), we have seen a significant impact to every area of our lives, both personally and professionally. Foreclosures on homes have reduced our operating budgets through loss of tax revenues. And the increased financial difficulties reduce normal retail spending, thereby reducing sale tax support for local departments, too.

We have started to see the deep cuts to city and special district fire department budgets. Sadly, with the speed of the financial impacts, cities and boards of directors are forced to make difficult fiscal decisions in an effort to remain able to delivering service to our constituents.

True colors
The problem with this strain is that some ill-advised politicians are starting to show their true colors. Firefighters are being laid off, stations are being closed and early retirements are being pushed to reduce overhead operating budgets. Firefighters are again being asked to do more with less.

We will again show ourselves more altruistic than realistic in that we will attempt to ensure services remain the same with a reduction in money, equipment and most importantly people. At this point in history, we are going to see an increase as point of service providers for emergency medical services. We will be a primary point of assistance from people who have always known that firefighters will help solve problems and take care of people.

We cannot lose site of the most important resource we have at our disposal -- our people. We must be sure that we will take care of our own families, both primary and our adopted families from within the fire service. Stress will rise as the new year comes around and we attempt to deal with economic impacts and still keep our heads above water. Keep an eye out on your adopted families and help where you are able.

Time is more important than money and the bonds created will deepen the relationships that already exist. Remember that children will not understand why things are different this year compared to last, but they will recognize that we are stressed over it. We must also take care of ourselves to ensure we can continue to meet the obligations from home and work.

While we will continue to take care of the customers, we must remember that we are customers that deserve taking care of, too. Stay fit, train hard as a team, and look for new processes and equipment that will make us safer as well as efficient. We will get through this by working as a team both inside and outside the firehouse. Have a great 2009 and thanks for all your support.

Michael Lee teaches firefighters the ‘Street Smarts’ they need to survive in some of the most dangerous situations they encounter: ice rescues, basement fires, and structural collapses. Read Lee’s advice in his FireRescue1 exclusive column.