THE $5 BILLION DREAM


BY BILL MANNING

As I drifted off to sleep last night I had a most peculiar dream That fractured fire service groups Behaved more like a team.

And men with power ties appeared, In visions clearly drawn, At press briefings, in hearing rooms, At signings on the Lawn.

And lo, but ringing in my ears Did earnest voices swell- Weldon and Hoyer, Dodd, DeWine And a prince called Bill Pascrell.

“Forward!” cried the Prince, And Weldon winced a bit,But the Godfather found his voice- The momentum was legit.

Pascrell’s tenacity caught on, He thundered to enact A bill just for firefighters Called, simply, FIRE Act.

In paneled rooms with portraits framed We lobbied and extolled The merits of the FIRE Act-oh, We were strong and bold.

We testified, we met in groups Of 20, six, and four, And our effort started bearing fruit, We were knocking at the door.

But even as the co-sponsors Grew mightily in number, The Bill met tough resistance- In D.C., that’s no wonder.

Fire is a local problem, Some said, and others, too, Said with this surplus that we’ve got We’ve better things to do.

From the fiscally conservative to The Balanced Budget Amendment, They threw us curves and knuckleballs, But these were small deterrents. For we were in the right, so right, Ignored for far too long. All we got was 35 million Until Pascrell came along.

And, miracle of miracles, The firefighters won. The President signed the Bill-Our moment in the sun.

Suddenly, things took a turn And I thought it was quite funny:But, after all, this was my dream, And now I controlled the money.

Bills stuffed in my pockets, A trail along the floor, Cash in every closet, Peeking out the doors.

It was a lot of money- You don’t realize just how much-Unless you’re a cop with seven times that For fighting crime and such.

I sat and sat, just thinking, And then I sat some more. How would I spend the loot? My brain was getting sore.

Oh, I knew the Bill was law- Heck, the President had signed it- But I had all the cash now, There’d be no bureaucracy behind it.

Then I identified my purpose For those federal smackeroos: I’d equip our homes with sprinklers; It seemed the smartest thing to do.

We’d work alongside the building And insurance industries. Why within 10 or 20 years We’d be sprinklered, sea to sea!

So I beckoned for the fire folks To tell them ’bout my plan. Some were already frowning, Others just held out their hands.

“Hello,” I said, with a smile on my face, “Now, I’ve got all the dough, And since this is a crazy dream, I’m changing the script of this show. “I read the Act, I know it well, I find it really something. I think it fine, considering Before it, we had nothing.

“But I’ve given this a lot of thought: It’s sprinklers we most need. If you want to save your firefighters, Sprinkler every home, indeed.”

Some choked, some gasped. Oh,they carried on As though I had blasphemed.One pounded his fist angrily,”What nonsense you have dreamed!”

With finger raised and dentures clenched,One climbed atop the table.”A pipe dream!” cried the activist.”‘Tis staffing that enables!”

“We need more fire-safe citizens!””Let us fund our EMS!””Apparatus!” yelled another, “I’m Sick of your B.S.”

“Fires kill and injure most, Not EMS or haz mat. Slay the fire before it grows,” I said. What’s wrong with that?

“Thermal imagers!” “RIT teams!””‘BAs!” They were screaming.”CPAT!” “Code enforcement!””Manning, you are dreaming!”

“It puts us out of business!””It costs us far too dearly!”The room began to sway.I almost fainted, nearly.

I thought good thoughts, hoping To erase this situation, When a man walked up beside me For a brief consultation:”Understand,” said the man with déjàvu,”Every player gets a slice of the pie.It’s politics, now get it straight-Don’t change it, don’t even try.”Then I awoke and sat upright And realized I’d been dreamingAnd over a steaming cup of Joe Tried to discern the meaning.

Oh, we have dwelled for years and years In a more-for-less limbo And we are right to fight the fight Against that status quo.

But somewhere in America The mournful sirens cry. And fire rages through our homes While firefighters try

To check the smoking beast. And some will pay the price, As duty and honor compel them, The ultimate sacrifice.

And we are on a course That assures little deviation, Unless a change of thinking Is brought to the equation.

I grabbed the morning paper, Feeling less than great, But the headline on page 35 said, “Hearing on H.R. 1168.”

A smile came to my lips, then-What’s good is good, it’s true. We need the federal money, We need to follow through.

Yet hail the Silent Sentinels That squelch in little time The fire-automatic sprinklers Must be the future paradigm.

So fire service leaders,Hear this urgent call From Hooterville to Katmandu, From here to Bedford Falls:

‘Tis sprinklers that will save us, They are a welcome sight. With a sprinkler head over every bed, We’ll all sleep well tonight.

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