“Better to light one candle…”

“Better to light one candle…”



Hundreds of years of tradition undisturbed by progress.” This hackneyed expression is often used by firebrand orators when they are discussing innovation efforts within the nation’s fire service. It usually arouses the ire (as it is designed to do) of those of us who have devoted a quarter century or more to fire suppression and all its support functions. This December saw another giant step in relegating this “grandstand” statement to the eradicated obscurity it deserves.

Fourteen manufacturers, two major fire service organizations, and six fire publication editors sat in concert with 23 fire service leaders who represented every type of department and region across the country. The day-long brainstorming session was hosted by FMC Corporation’s apparatus division in Orlando, FL.

The “ball” was thrown onto the court by FMC’s division manager with this question: “We realize that response safety is a shared responsibility. Are we building equipment as safe as possible or are unsafe aspects built into the products?” The answer was quick in coming from the leader of the Phoenix, AZ, fire service, Alan Brunacini. “Safety is more of a political and management issue than it is a scientific one.” With that said, a full day of dialogue explored issues of traditionalism, code making, horsepower, braking, speed, innovative apparatus design, union pressures, liability factors, and chief officer and other managerial responsibilities.

It was astonishing and indeed gratifying to witness nods of agreement from the fire service leaders as each subject was addressed, dissected, and digested by both manufacturer and user.

By the end of the day, major guidelines had been identified to solve the problems. The areas of cooperation were outlined as follows:

  • Set priorities that impact the manufacturers and the fire service.
  • There is a need for safer, more practical apparatus.
  • Vehicles can be built safer with fire service cooperation and through practical human engineering.
  • We can achieve an acceptable level of safety if all fire service organizations establish and enforce certain standards.
  • Fire service management must make a major commitment to response and operational safety.
  • A liaison office should be established between the fire service and apparatus manufacturers and suppliers.

Gary Briese, lAFC’s executive director, perhaps summed it up best by stating “We have to change our way of doing business.” He further challenged the fire chief. ” If we are not aggressive in pursuit and implementation of safety, we will abrogate another chunk of our authority as chiefs of department. The insurance companies will intrude and dictate policy more and more, and force standards upon us that we don’t even know exist. Eighty percent of our safety problem can be solved with 20 percent of our efforts directed toward rule making and enforcement.”

We were all glad that we had invested the time and effort to attend this open forum on response safety. John J. O’Rourke, recently retired chief of department of the City of New York, leaned over and said, “The fire service can accomplish anything. It’s great to see that for once we are trying to do it by standing on each others’ shoulders instead of each others’ toes.”

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