Let fire suppression do its job
Milwaukee (WI) Fire Department
My comments address a few components of the August 1997 issue, primarily the Letters to the Editor submissions concerning “Fighting Fires with Words,” (Editor`s Opinion, January 1997). I feel that the fire service is “positioned” and almost obliged to handle today`s many areas of concern mentioned–fire suppression, specialized rescue, public education, fire prevention, fire investigation, and so on.
What I disagree with is the way that most department leaders have chosen to go about it–blindly taking on new tasks in the name of protecting staffing levels and handing them over to already overburdened line forces without the necessary training to do the job, sending off the troops to do more than they already are inefficiently and ineffectively doing. In many cases the line company is taken out of service, jeopardizing protection for the fire department`s first-due district. I have to think that the “customers” would rather have water in four minutes instead of eight and pass on the coloring books. I believe these circumstances are becoming the “business as usual” that Steve Willis calls “the fire service`s future” in his Letter to the Editor.
I don`t think that everyone on the job chomps at the bit for the next worker. I see firefighters who take very well to fire education programs and seem quite comfortable in that role. These professionals should have a place in the department. Perhaps a department comprised of bureaus–Fire, EMS, Fire Education and Prevention–but separate bureaus. Let`s not pull together “U all those extra persons (firefighters trained as EMS/haz-mat/high-angle/collapse/prevention/laundry, and so on U” for the “real big one,” as Chief Glenn D. Usdin`s Letter to the Editor suggests. Rather, let the Fire Suppression Bureau handle that. Let`s also not pull a front-line company out of service to wear a dalmatian suit, put on puppet shows, or half-heartedly staff a fire education trailer. That`s the Fire Education and Prevention Bureau`s deal–no less important U.
We can take a lesson from Chief John F. Coleman`s article (“Using Mission Statements in the Fire Service: Do You Know What Your Companies Are Doing?”) and apply mission statements to the bureaus–i.e., Fire Suppression fights fires, EMS provides treatment and transport, Education runs programs. Maintain separate mission statements and carry out tasks with focus or “tunnel vision.” The bureaus can interface as necessary. Fire responds on Medic assists. EMS is on standby at fire scenes. Fire companies–intact and in service within their district–can supplement fire education programs. Still, they keep their focus.
Also, each bureau has to have promotional avenues and opportunities to attract and keep workers. Personnel work hard in EMS or fire education until the end of the promotional avenue, then they take a test and leap into a fire officer`s position without the necessary background or experience. Major corporations don`t have an employee work for five years in R & D and then promote him/her to supervise a team in marketing. Why do we expect a firefighter who has worked that long in fire education to lead a line company successfully?
Fire Suppression should be left to do its job. We should be increasing the staffing of these other bureaus to do their functions and stop piling every new task on the line company. I believe that this is the answer to Captain William F. Crapo`s question, “What`s the Problem?” (“The Treadmill”). Diversification of departments without proper separation of duties among members is confusing. We`re pretty good at a lot of things, but we`re not that great at anything–including fighting fires effectively. The numbers don`t lie.
Department leaders must make the stand that line forces have proven their need for adequate staffing levels. If more services are wanted, then hire more people to provide them–in separate bureaus.