A Giant Step Backward
I had been planning to fill this space with some random thoughts on truck functions. “Truck work” is a popular and complex term within the fire service and a subject extremely well attended when it appears on conference schedules.
Many firefighters who I have spoken with voiced frustration over their inability to do truck work well because the truck was either poorly manned or a non-existent entity within their department.
In speaking with several of you, we agree that there are circles of responsibility assigned to responding firefighters. Depending on manpower and equipment availability, these duties may be accomplished simultaneously or in order of urgency based on size-up. It is the dedicated, thinking firefighter’s job (we reasoned) to blend truck functions with other tactics of the fire fight. It doesn’t matter whether or not trucks or “truckees” respond; what’s important is that the tactics and responsibilities be understood and answered for.
This idea of circles of responsibility was shattered when copies of news clippings sent by outraged readers landed on my desk. The reports detailed the horrifying facts surrounding an Arkansas volunteer fire department’s strategy. A strategy I would have considered inconceivable.
On arrival, fire personnel determined that the owners of a burning $150,000 home had not paid their annual $20 dues fee. Neighbors at the scene offered to pay the $20 fee and the $250 charge for fighting the fire. The firefighters(?) refused. The responders stood by, reportedly to make sure that the fire didn’t spread. The house was destroyed, and a household pet died. “We’ve had a policy . . . . If you’re not a member, we don’t fight the fire,” the chief was quoted as saying. The CHICAGO TRIBUNE reported that these responders began to hose down the fire truck during the incident.
I was sick. What the hell is the sense of splitting hairs on finite aspects of tactics and procedures when we in the fire service dare to tolerate such membership?
Having also been a member of a volunteer fire department for more than 13 years, the “volly” has always had a step ahead, in my mind, when the word “dedication” was discussed in our bull sessions. To be able to accomplish the enormous and responsible task of fire control in many, if not most, of the communities within our country for little or no compensation is indeed a defining quality of dedication. Parties and assemblies are but a tiny compensation to those who donate their time so freely.
The news reports of the antics of these fire truck responders were filled with the words “chief,” “fire association,” “volunteer,” and “firefighter.”
These unprincipled few who chose not only to withhold their services, but to show up with all their equipment to watch a neighbor’s home perish do not even fit the denotative or connotative definition of the word “firefighter.” Their antics are a blot on the firefighting profession and the brotherhood of volunteer firefighters.
I suspect that the same tragic result would have occurred with this type of responder even if the ransom was paid.