09/09/13 659 W - + 4 - 2 Boston Globe < Statter < Legeros

The recently published Boston Globe article "Plenty of firefighters, but where are the fires?" opens with:

Is there such a thing as too many heroes?

Walking past a neighborhood fire station can be one of the most deeply reassuring experiences of city life—a reminder that there are people in our midst ready to pull on their helmets and stride into danger whenever and where something goes wrong.

But as a recent Globe story reported, city records show that major fires are becoming vanishingly rare. In 1975, there were 417 of them. Last year, there were 40. That’s a decline of more than 90 percent. A city that was once a tinderbox of wooden houses has become—thanks to better building codes, automatic sprinkler systems, and more careful behavior—a much less vulnerable place.

Read entire story.

Dave Statter at Statter911 responded with "How Do You Fight The Concept of 'Too Many Heroes?His posting opens with:

As we know, the economists and statisticians over the last decade have been presenting a different view of firefighting that has been embraced by a lot of jurisdictions across the country. The findings of the academics are often pushed forward by those who believe in smaller government and/or large reductions in the taxes we pay.

For some departments it has meant a reinvention into what this article by Leon Neyfakh in the Ideas section of The Boston Globe calls “all-purpose urban response squads”. Other departments have been able to mostly hold the line and continue in the roles defined by the long tradition of firefighting. But many of those are doing so with a lot fewer firefighters and resources.

Whether we like anything in this article or not, it is the reality of the 21st Century and a force that most departments have dealt with or are dealing with in some form or another. Being prepared to address all of these issues is a crucial role of labor leaders and the modern fire chief, whether career or volunteer.

Read entire post.

Legeros offers this response, posted via Facebook:

 This is complicated stuff, I think, because firefighters are both (a.) everyday/every-hazard service providers, and (b.) an insurace policy for the community. The former is the most visible piece, and maybe the easiest for editorial and social commentary. So easy to just run with change-based speculation or scenarios. Change truck sizes. Change station locations. Change response types. Change staffing. Change saturation. Etcetera.

This gets further complicated, I think, by a couple truths of the fire service. First, the majority of the public doesn't really or fully understanding what the fire service does, and why it's important. There isn't the priority or saturation of public education or fire service marketing that could help on this front. It's getting better though, and digital imagery and social media are vastly improving the ability of communities to "know about" their firefighters. Second, something goes here. [ Hey, it's early. Got distracted by my closing paragraph. ]

So it's complicated, when those outside are looking inside and with ideas of change. And yet, they're the ones with the keys to the kingdom. They're the elected officials and the taxpayers, and the people who paying for/supporting the service that they benefit from.

This all makes me think of Harry Carter's crystal ball predictions last week, http://tinyurl.com/ng5dwkb. He offers a vision where fire suppression operations are rare, and firefighters or the fire service is performing "full service" fire-prevention projects, public education, and property inspection. A future where even more fires are prevented, and even fewer fires are fought. Okay, maybe a really far future. (Though some countries are doing that already, no? Isn't that the ethos of the fire service in Japan?) Yeah, I know. Change. Scary.

Change is…inevitable…except from a vending machine.
DJ - 09/09/13 - 12:30

I gotta say…I find this post interesting. Yet, as a full-time Captain in the Fire Department, I agree. However, there are a few items that we need to look at. Yep, fire related calls are down thanks to FIREFIGHTERS. Fire related deaths (civilians) are down…thanks to firefighters. Let’s just break it down a bit. In the 60’s, 70’s , and 80’s there was fire prevention but, crappy fire prevention. Years ago, they would go to schools, pop in a VHS tape, and let the kiddos watch a strange cartoon character play with matches that were BAD. But, starting in the 90’s, the growing trend of concentrating on fire prevention specialists grew. Now, those kids are older and practicing what we have preached for years. That’s a GREAT thing!! Take away firefighters, deal with more fires in the future. Pretty simple. Change is inevitable and in many ways are good. But, in some ways can be very very bad and I am concerned. The future looks grim. Take away your educators and the world gets dumb/ignorant. It is going to work in full circle (just my opinion). New homes are growing old and old homes are getting older as the population of this world grows bigger. I could go on. Obviously I am partial to the fire service because I see it from the inside and I have seen results from our work>
Dman (Email) - 09/09/13 - 15:36

First question: What is the definition of a “major fire”? While the number of fires is definitely down from the 70s (which is a horrible comparison, you don’t compare data by looking at extreme outliers), it’s possible that major fires are down because of changes in tactics and staffing. Something else that irked me about the article is that it starts by mentioning the slower houses in the department. Anyone with a basic understanding of big city politics knows that if houses close, it won’t be the slow houses in affluent areas, it will be the poor urban areas that will suffer.

On another post I mentioned the need for public education, but I didn’t really elaborate or articulate what I meant. To be more accurate, the fire service may someday find itself in need of the dreaded Public Relations industry. Political campaigns, PACs, and non-profits employ staffers whose job is to pitch the media on stories that they would like to see covered, and I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea if every department or union in the country had someone like that as well. I’m not talking about someone who briefs reporters who show up to an emergency scene, or someone who makes up or embellishes facts, but a Communications staffer whose sole job is to push everyday for a different news outlet to cover the work the local FD is doing.

For example, if a FD responds to a kitchen fire in an apartment and quickly stops it before it can spread to other rooms, that story is probably not going to get covered by the press by itself but there is still an opportunity to talk about how the fire would’ve been worse if the first due engine didn’t exist, the homeowners can talk about their possessions that were saved, etc. In other words, if the public only hears about the FD when an entire apartment building or warehouse burns down, the fire service will likely face many of the same cuts that other industries have faced recently.

Public Affairs Officers already do some of this work, but in this political climate and with all of the resources that social media provides, a lot more could be done.
Chris - 09/09/13 - 17:08

Fire Prevention saves lives. Firefighting VERY RARELY does. Mitigation is the key. I believe it truly starts with Performance Based Fire Codes: http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/.. . Education and residential sprinklers are certainly necessary efforts, but many firefighters are comfortable with what they are initially introduced to… firefighting; therefore the minimized “mitigative” advocacy is culturally developed from an early age in our culture.
A.C. Rich - 09/09/13 - 19:03

...and I add… the public is certainly more aware and knowledgeable of our activities than we think. We need to “re-imagine” ourselves and our approaches often as change and public perception go hand-in-hand and is inevitable.
A.C. Rich - 09/09/13 - 19:14

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