How Well Do We Know Our Neighbors?

By Scott Reichenbach

How many of us in the fire service know our neighbors? Year in and year out, we go about our business of answering alarms and helping others. We continually replace and update equipment as items become outdated, damaged, or just plain old. We continually struggle to make ends meet and try to remain compliant in this ever-changing world. Equipment companies are in a fierce battle to tweak old stock or come up with new and better ways of serving our needs. We attend trade shows and are constantly bombarded with all the new wave equipment. Departments throw down thousands of dollars at a time to just keep up with the changes.

The NFPA has a committee to ensure that all of us are looked after properly. They continually strive to make our world a safer place to operate. They have done a great job of keeping up with current trends in the industry and have laid out volumes of recommendations. To stay in the game, we need to stay compliant as best we can. Many departments scoff at the idea of change, and many welcome it. It is the duty of our managers to stay on top of change and adjust to new ideas. But the question I am posing is…Do we really need all this stuff? The answer is, yes we do, but do we need to own it all? Do we need to have it with us at all times? I don’t think so. It is time that those of us in the fire service take a good look at our neighbors. I know tradition reminds us that we are the best in the business and other fire departments only exist to take care of their own and occasionally help us out. It is imperative that we start to think otherwise.

Right now the fire service is riding high atop of an unfortunate wave. Do we deserve the attention? Most certainly. It has been a long time coming, but we paid a very heavy price to get it. Can any of us predict how long this wave will last? I am sure for some it has already hit the beach, some may already see the effects of the riptide. For others it is just gaining momentum. So, how do you best deal with this popularity while it lasts? If your department is lucky enough to have its budget increased, how do you manage it? At this time in our long and distinguished history, we need to look to our neighbors. It is time we start to share ideas and, most importantly, share resources. We don’t need to give anything back, but we do need to become more resourceful and look toward relying on each other.

In the volunteer world, many municipalities have organized fire chiefs associations. They usually assemble to share ideas and information. Some larger metropolitan departments have company officers who budget for equipment to meet the needs of their individual companies. How many of us are looking to each other for consolidating equipment? In your fire service world, wouldn’t it be feasible to talk to your neighbors come budget time? Can we get along long enough to work toward a common goal?

We are in this business to serve the citizens of our respective communities. Most of us do provide mutual aid. Maybe it’s time to look at using each other more often. Instead of laying down thousands of dollars to keep up with all the new equipment, maybe we could talk to our neighbors about who can provide what. I would bet that if we dumped all our tools out of our rigs, you would find that alot of the items that were very expensive and don’t get used that often are on another piece of apparatus a few minutes away.

How much equipment on that piece of apparatus down the road is duplicated on ours? Don’t get me wrong. We must realize that some equipment is important to carry on all apparatus. There are some things we just can’t afford to wait for. But there are just as many items that we can.

We are at a time in the fire service that we just aren’t accustom to. We need to think, manage, and plan how best to make use of our present popularity. I believe those of us in the fire service, more than ever, need to talk to our neighbors and combine our planning efforts. We need to decide if we can’t possibly use what someone else has. We need to plan our purchases to ensure that our goals are met and maybe save a little by relying on the help of others. We need to procure the money and spend wisely. I feel that overduplication is a thing of the past and it is time to rely on each other for our resources. If we start to share resources, we will need to train together. This very idea of sharing equipment and combined training efforts is long overdue!

Let’s ride this wave while it’s high and strive to be prudent in our efforts. We need to maintain the best level of service we can to those who depend on us every day.

Scott Reichenbach is a 30-year veteran of the fire service. He currently serves as the assistant chief for the Defense Logistics Agency Federal Fire Department in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.

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