101 Things the Fire Department wishes you knew



Sunday, July 12

Sunday Fun - My Turn

Newsweek magazine has a section called "My Turn" where they turn over a page in the magazine to a reader to comment on what they are passionate about. They are usually great tales of recovering from cancer, dealing with the aged or something else interesting.

Apparently my submission was either not interesting or not well written, they passed.

I wrote this 4 years ago and never had a place to put it. I found it and wanted to share.

Submitted to newsweek Magazine, August 2005

Have you ever gone into work in the morning and it was closed for the day to save the company money? My employer is doing just such a thing. Now understand that I don’t get the day off, I have to gather all my things and go to another site to do my work. Everyday someone I work with is in this situation and not only is it inconvenient for me, it could cost you your life. You see, I’m a Firefighter / Paramedic.

Politicians and administrators across America are turning to a dangerous game that saves money on paper but can have disastrous results in real life. Instead of cutting costs by closing a fire station and moving the fire engines, ladder trucks and paramedic units to a nearby location, they close a different station everyday leaving the entire area without fire or paramedic services. Some cities “brownout” more than 10% of fire stations a day. You can see how the savings can add up quickly, that is until someone calls 911. Even with all the talk of Homeland Security, WMD response and terrorism threats, the very people who would come to our aid are gone.
The fire station nearest to my home is closed about 2 days a week. Is yours? How do you find out? I thought the best way would be to call the fire chief. Her office gave me a boiler plate answer about how the fancy computers they have will automatically dispatch the nearest unit in case of an emergency.

I asked, “Isn’t that why they built the fire station here in the first place? So that in case of an emergency they will be there?“ and was told, “…it will reopen tomorrow.“ Not satisfied, I called my elected district supervisor’s office who’s intern was unaware of the practice. His office had not heard the Chief had “closed” any stations at all, but that they would look into it. The intern called back 20 minutes later with the number to the fire chief’s office. Big help.

An official with the local firefighter’s union made an excellent example of this brownout policy that relates to every citizen. With a serial killer on the loose, leave one of your windows open every night. Not the same one all the time, but a different one, hoping the killer won’t notice.
This practice sounds unrealistic, I know, but your local fire department may have already made the decision for you by closing the closest fire station for the day.

Even if you do get out of the fire safely due to properly working smoke detectors and a well practiced escape plan, the nearest fire engine is 8 minutes away instead of 4. Keep in mind that a fire doubles in size every minute.
That extra 4 minutes could mean the difference between life and death should you experience a heart attack, stroke, get in a car accident, break your leg or any number of other conditions that warrant an emergency response.

The worst part of this practice is that it is being done quietly, so quietly in fact that many of my neighbors didn’t know it was happening until I told them. No politician will stand in front of TV cameras and volunteer the fire station near their home to be closed.

So go to your local fire station and find out if you really are as safe as you thought. Just don’t be surprised if there’s no one there to answer the door.

5 comments:

Ohio Medic said...

Your article was thought provoking. We don't "brown out" stations here, we just don't add crews to the fleet despite documented 30% increases in countywide run volume in the last 10 years. Our service is still staffing ambulances for the population are run volume we had in 1987.

A funny thing seems to have happened to the public, too. At least in our area, we have shifted from a 'pro EMS, pro fire, you guys can do no wrong' attitude among taxpayers to a to a general resentment from taxpayers aimed at school teachers, street department employees, cops, firefighters, and paramedics. We have the Gravy Jobs (according to a recent newspaper editorial) with good salaries, a state retirement plan, union protection, and built-in guarantees against unemployment or layoffs.

I realize the private sector has been hit hard with the recession, but this is the first time I can sense a palpable and seething resentment from John Q. Public. The elected officials have noticed, and one publicly toys with contracting EMS service out to private ambulances to "save those tax dollars". Apparently, one private service made the unsubstantiated claim they could run 100% of the 9-1-1 calls on 3rd party reimbursement only and return all the tax money for EMS back to the county to be used elsewhere. Frightening.

I don't know where we go with this. For the first time in my 27 years on am ambulance, I am hearing "suck it up, I'm hurting and you guys can hurt a little bit too" from the taxpayers about our ability to provide timely lifesaving EMS response and care. I am interested in the responses of others.

Michael Morse said...

Hello HM and Ohio Medic,

Nice story, HM, Newsweeks loss. I sent one in about my Uncle Tony and how we found out about his WWII heroics 60 years later six weeks before Memorial Day last year. They ignored it. It ended up on my blog, one of the best things I ever wrote, if i do say so myself!

Sorry for your troubles, Ohio Medic. If it is any consolation, here in Providence angry mobs are forming in the streets, pitchforks and torches in hand looking to hand us "lucky" public sector union members. Police, fire, ems, teachers...it doesn't matter, nothing will change their minds until the economy improves and they start doing better economically and benefit wise than us.

It is truly sad, but is happening everywhere I guess. I used to make the argument that in the eighties when they were reaping the rewards of a vibrant economy and our salaries and benefits were well below average nobody cared. Now, i just come to work, write my blog, respond to calls and hold my head high.

The Happy Medic said...

I like your order of things Lt:
"Now, i just come to work, write my blog, respond to calls and hold my head high."

Arrive, blog, calls, self respect.

You are not alone. Sigh.

Michael Morse said...

"I like your order of things Lt:
"Now, i just come to work, write my blog, respond to calls and hold my head high."

Not necessarily in that order!

Little Girl said...

You guys are scaring me .... I think I need run and high under my blankets.

It just seems wrong to close a fire station, even if its just for 24 hrs. I over heard one of my co-workers saying that somewhere in the continent on North America, the FFs are putting reader boards on the tarmac of the station say 'This station is unmanned! No one will be at this station until X date & time'.

I know the agency I work for closed one fire station, but the building was contaminated - the engine was relocated while the city determines where they are going to put the new hall, and sends out for bids to get it built.

On a lighter side, we are continuing to open up stations every 9 to 12 months. There are always 2 or 3 station under construction it the city at a time. Even our rural counterparts are opening full time stations every year.