Penny-wise or pound-foolish?
Daniel J. Peppin
Midwest Division Fire Department
Schererville (IN) Fire Department
I have been asked many times: Why do we have to pay three to four times more for a product that has the word “fire” associated with it [and is designed to meet specific standards]? I began thinking about this topic after receiving a phone call that raised a question about whether some standards or approvals have been violated.
It seems that a fire department received some new bunker gear that met the department`s specifications and was NFPA-compliant. A problem arose when a captain did not like the new escape zipper with the outer closure system. He took it upon himself to place some hook and dee snaps on the coat, which still had the over flap with the manufacturer-supplied closure material. The captain`s modification enabled him to use the suit without having to use the zipper.
After my discussion with the people who asked whether the modifications had voided the suit`s compliance approvals, I asked them what would happen if the captain were to get hurt. I believe that is the area that costs the fire service. They answered that he would sue the manufacturer because he was injured while wearing the gear and that he would also sue the distributor who sold the department the gear and the hook and dees for the modification. I asked if by chance the distributor had been told what they intended to do with the parts … [or] the bunker coat. They said no. The lawsuits would not stop there. The fire department would be next because it did not get the gear the captain wanted in the first place, which supposedly would have avoided all of this. If this sounds bad, l agree that it is, but it is nonetheless true.
While reading this, did you say to yourself that this would never hold up in any court? I know I did. Nonetheless, the legal fees and the time you are forced to expend in such instances have to be made up somewhere …. Sometimes, we are our own worst nightmare.
This is not being written to blame any department but hopefully to open some eyes to what is happening, possibly in your own department. I have worked for a fire equipment manufacturer and also for a fire equipment company. Some of the things I have seen would be unbelievable if I did not actually see them. I have been asked for drawings of parts for extrication equipment because the department has a machinist it “thinks” could make that piece cheaper. I am willing to bet that manufacturers wish they did not have to spend so much money meeting approval and testing standards and that they could “think” the part was good enough ….
We have very high expectations of how tools and equipment should perform, and we should. Most of the time, these items save lives. So with our expectations so high, how can we allow someone in the department to do a quick fix? Do you want to be the one wearing the air mask that was repaired with the o-rings from the local auto store? How about the one using the rescue tools repaired in Bob`s garage because he knows a lot about motors and stuff? I am not saying that we cannot or should not do routine maintenance or preventive maintenance on items at the fire station but that we think twice about who is doing the work and where the parts are coming from. At a fire or rescue scene, we are expected to perform as professionals and be competent. Why do we allow anything different back at the station?