Support Civil Defense Now
Recently the President of the United States exercised his prerogative to place certain phases of civil defense under the direction of the Department of Defense. In a message to the Congress announcing this move, he indicated his intention to develop an accelerated program and to support it by a larger commitment of Federal participation than in the past. In his message he also stated the Secretary of Defense will be in charge of Federal programs for the protection of the civilian population including that of fire fighting and control.
Prior to the message, many organizations and individuals, including this writer, rightfully expressed strong concern over possible military control of CD functions as being contrary to the best interests and traditions of this country. In his message President Kennedy stated in part, “I am assigning responsibility for this program to the top civilian authority already responsible for continental defense, the Secretary of Defense. It is important that this function remain civilian, in nature and leadership; and this feature will not be changed.”
With this assurance and faced with a world situation which has taken on a grave aspect, it is necessary that all Americans show their solidarity in support of the civil defense program. Participation on every level is a requisite if this country is to become and remain strong on the home front in the face of threats by our enemies. The fire service as a whole must reassess its position and assets to make certain that it is prepared to shoulder its obligations. This includes making governing officials again aware of its needs if the responsibilities are to be met.
In line with the President’s call for increased funds for civil defense, it is timely to suggest the Federal Government take another look at discontinued programs for matching funds allocated for fire apparatus. When this phase was terminated, it was explained that some municipalities had taken advantage of it, merely to replace overage vehicles. That modern fire apparatus and equipment strengthens not only a given community, but also provides the means to fully participate in area and state mutual aid plans, was completely ignored. Certainly those critical of the results couldn’t expect the same communities to fully cooperate in today’s civil defense fire plans with obsolete and undependable apparatus. The folly of this can be seen by simply recalling the great obsolescence of fire vehicles in our communities during World War II.
At present it is estimated there are about 54,000 pumpers and 10,000 aerial ladders among the more than 100,000 vehicles employed by the fire service. It is further estimated that about 30 per cent of this apparatus is over the 15-year reasonable life span. For the past three years the U. S. Department of Commerce has reported an average of 2,700 major fire vehicles built annually. Based on these figures, it will require seven years to replace apparatus deemed obsolete right now. In the same period nearly 45 per cent of current apparatus will have reached obsolescence. Unless serious efforts are made to arrest this situation, we will find ourselves in the ridiculous position of having advanced one step and fallen back two.
The statistics concern only fire departments now in existence and do not take into account new departments being organized daily. These also require apparatus, thus shrinking the actual replacement rate. Similar parallels can be drawn for many other types of fire fighting tools, equipment and facilities.
On the bright side, the fire service itself has been preparing plans for staff and command training to meet problems created by wartime fire operations. Acting through the National Fire Defense Advisory Committee in cooperation with OCDM, approximately 60 top-ranking fire fighters will attend a twoweek pilot command course at OCDM Headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich., during October. Candidates have been invited from among municipal fire departments, Federal Government agencies and state and local fire officers other than municipal.
During the course students will study strategy and tactics of fire defense, fire potentials of nuclear attack, phenomena of fire behavior, progress in fire research, fire service radiological operations, mutual aid agreements and logistics. Results of the pilot course will then be used in developing a basic course that can be adapted to national, state and local needs. Establishment of a National Fire Academy may result.
The President of the United States has sounded a call to action for the preservation of our way of life. As citizens and individuals, all fire fighters certainly will respond to the alarm with every facility at their command. In this respect, no better way can be found than to give wholehearted support to present plans to protect this nation against wartime fires.