Police and Fire Consolidation: The Controversy Continues

Police and Fire Consolidation: The Controversy Continues

Departments

THE EDITOR’S OPINION

The police and fire consolidation controversy has been like a weed in the field of fire service management. From time to time it springs up again in one area or another.

You know the scenario, of course. Some city administrator decides that the answer to all his problems lies in funding a single super department where before there were two. The word is panacea.

Sometimes the experiment is declared a local success, but often it upsets an entire ecology — only to wither away later in failure.

The belief from this desk is that the failures are natural and inevitable, like trying to grow cotton in Alaska . . . but then we’ve never been personally involved in the consolidation process.

George Danz has. As chief of the Kalamazoo, Mich., Fire Department, he found himself face to face with a mandate for consolidation. He opposed the idea at first. Now he is involved in the largest police and fire department consolidation project ever, in this issue he describes the project and the particular conditions that led to it.

But because we have strong personal views, or because many fire officers are instinctively and bitterly opposed to such an extreme form of consolidation, this does not mean that Fire Engineering can ignore the subject, hoping it will just go away. It won’t. Weeds never do.

Fire chiefs who try to ignore the subject stand to lose maneuvering room. People who hold the political power can be very forceful in dealing with someone who is perceived to be automatically obstructionist. That is a certain way to lose the battle and the war.

A better attitude, we think, is that suggested by Robert Ely, director of fire services and the building official in Kirkland, Wash.

He says we should be for something (as long as it is positive) rather than against something. That’s a common-sense approach in view of the reality of declining revenues in many areas. Some adjustments in city budgets are obviously necessary. So why not anticipate the problem (Isn’t it universal now?) and prepare alternative plans that are less disruptive to the fire department and just as beneficial to the community?

Look at it this way: As a fire officer, would you feel more cooperative if a subordinate made a suggestion to improve some aspect of your fire fighting tactics, or if he merely waited to hear your plan and then immediately and pugnaciously said “it will never work.”

Ely’s comments are elsewhere in this issue in a new section called Forum, which present a variety of opinions on subjects that are often controversial. Your comments are invited.

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