Across the county, one department's problem is gradually becoming every department's problem.
A Sunday edition of Bill Schumm’s Firegeezer blog had a story about the problems with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. At one time the LAFD was considered to be one of the best fire departments in the country, with a class 1 ISO rating, well trained personnel and great equipment. While they still have their class 1 rating, the LAFD has fallen on hard times with budget cuts, station brownouts that cause longer response times, and apparatus maintenance issues.
The politicians have tried to “spin” their side of the story, saying that public safety and the safety of the firefighters of the LAFD hasn’t been affected. There are those members of the LA media that are speaking out and telling the truth.
It isn’t only happening in the City of Angels, it is happening in other parts of the country from big metropolitan fire departments to the small town volunteer fire departments. For example, look at the debacle in Washington D.C. Fire Department ( I will always call it the "DCFD" ) where the Chief of Department is more concerned with changing the Department’s name to "DC FEMS" and changing the patches and lettering on uniforms than he is with the safety of his personnel. Two DCFD firefighters suffered burn injuries while fire rated uniform shirts sat in a warehouse gathering dust because they have the DCFD logo on them. Madness!
In Philadelphia rotating brownouts have caused longer response times giving fires a much larger head start and consequently more firefighters are getting injured. The PFD Brass’ solution: punish the firefighters for getting hurt and reporting on duty injuries. Insanity!
In a small city in Ohio a friend of mine has been beating his head against the wall dealing with politicians who just don’t get it. His department has closed a station and is down nine personnel, yet they are expected to “do more with less”. Ludicrous! In the LAFD story, there was a quote that stuck in my mind… ""When I first came on, retirement was a sad day for the retiree. Now it seems like the retiree can't leave soon enough."
There are many experienced personnel in the fire service all over the country who feel the same way and are making plans to retire before their pensions get raided and downgraded. They are taking with them the knowledge and experience of what was considered the “war years”.
The politicians don't give a fat rat’s ass because they see a retirement as one less position they have to fund, and dump the workload on whoever remains. Who suffers? The firefighters who now have to do more with less and have less time to train to protect themselves, the public and the taxpayers who come to expect a prompt and adequate response only to get shortchanged… burnt property does not generate tax revenue, drags down the values of the surrounding properties and because there is less money coming into the community's coffers, more cuts are made, and the downward spiral continues.
When the crap hits the fan the politicians like to blame the very people they gutted like a fish on the dock for the problem if things go bad. In major disasters they show up to "be with the troops", giving them a pat on the back for a photo op or a 30 second blurb on the evening news then go back to business as usual.
We have to get our act together to break this vicious cycle, or there will not be an American Fire Service to pass on to the next generation of firefighters.
Ron Ayotte is a Deputy Chief of the Marlborough (MA) Fire Department and employee to the Support Services division of the Massachusetts Department of Fire Service/Massachusetts Firefighting Academy.
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