Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Modern version of a quote by Chief Edward Croker FDNY
This quote is given to each class of recruits joining the New York City Fire Department (FDNY).  And probably many others.  But each individual firefighter everywhere knows this quote even if they don't know where it came from.  It is a principle that they live by.
      It is a question in the mind of many people as to why, when everyone is running to get away from a fire, some run toward it.
   There is a crisis building in this country and many elected officials, city and county managers are dealing with.  Some with utter disregard for the needs of our citizens.
      First let me start with this.  Congratulations to Joe Cox (47 years), Keith Rathenberger (33 county, 20 city), Tome Farney (HFD 20, KFD 20), Jerry McNamar (31), and Ed Hermon (27).  These are retirees from the Kiowa Kansas Volunteer Fire Department.  The numbers indicate years of service, some with more than one department.
     The years of service are an indicator of the age of firefighters all across the nation.  Kiowa is fortunate that they have young members stepping into each position.  Yet the depth of the department numbers could be larger.  This department has been able to side step the problems that are affecting the fire service nationwide.
     Everyday the news of the death of a firefighter, or officer, comes in and at least 1/3 of the time, or more, it is due to a heart attack suffered on a call or afterward.  It is reflective of the age crisis in the volunteer service.  It is also the trend of early heart attack and stroke suffered by firefighters at a younger age than the general population.
     So does everyone appreciate what the members of the fire departments do?  NO!  There are any number of towns, cities, townships, and districts across the country who are more concerned with saving money than equipping and training fire departments.  Compound the fact that the rural areas are losing young people as fast as they graduate and there are few young people to replace the aging and increasingly unhealthy members.
     There are also huge numbers of taxpayers who give more attention of cutting taxes.  Yet they expect the best and fastest service when it is their house on fire.
     There is a small town not far from home that has one old fire rig.  It is a grass fire rig and not even an engine.  There were only two men there that could take the unit out on a fire.  The town is in an extremely remote area of the county.  The closest department is over 20 miles away.  One of the men had had open heart surgery.  The other had heart problems.  Both were over 70.  One had to finally move into a larger town for health reasons.  That left one man with heart trouble.  When a call would come in he would pull out to the county road and wait for a local cowboy to come by and recruit him to go to the fire.
     I have not been there for a few years so I don't even know if there is anyone left to take the truck out.  Many departments are recruiting women because they are available and willing to step in.  Yet it remains to be seen if small departments can survive.
     To compound these problems there are certain minimum equipment and training standards that are law laid down by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and backed by insurance companies.  Many of these standards are formed by large professional departments, code services, and legislation.  Many are all but impossible for a small underfunded department to even come close to.
     There are legal liabilities.  Many departments do not know the responsibilities that the law assigns to the fire chief.  From Code enforcement, investigation and police powers, maintaining minimum standards, and planning for major incidents.  The fact that the fire statutes, that authorize the existence of fire departments and regulations, does not differentiate between Volunteer or Professional.  Either term is not even mentioned in state statute.  With the authorization is the liability of discharging the duties.
     The very real possibility that regular inspection of facilities, training standards, and safety concerns can be prosecuted, and have as a criminal case.  Then there is the civil liability.
      But malfeasance is generally done by someone with the purse strings.  As an example, Houston Texas Fire Department is one of the recognised largest and best fire departments in the world.  This does not insulate them from budget cutters.  The city fathers have just voted to build a multi million dollar pet park and have slashed the fire department budget to the point that stations will be closed.  There is possibility of lay offs and the response times will go to the point that the danger to the public and firefighters will sky rocket.  This from a city that just buried five firefighters.
     Another city has a volunteer department but does have paid drivers in the station.  They recently created a new fire station and added new engines and equipment to the department.  There is an opening there right now and the ad reads, "maintenance and fire truck driver position open".  The main duties of the fire truck driver is Janitor at City Hall.  Most departments require several years experience and testing to become the Engineer (driver).  There is a lot more to 'driving' and operating a fire truck.  It is not for just anyone who hires in off the street to start at.  Although when I hired on in 1974 my department ran two man engine companies and I started to drive after 3 shifts of intense instruction.  It did help that I was a farm boy and had rode out with the department for several months as a volunteer.
     Can every department and entity do things better?  You bet.  Do some try?  Yep and many go over and above.  But the value that the community puts on its fire departments has a reflection on the values on the itself.

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