I Am Tired of Hearing…
When I was asked to pen some of the articles that appear in this Web edition, I was told I could talk about anything that was on my mind. While somedays that can be challenging, I do have opinions on various issues. For this issue I will take couple of issues that continue to raise the hackles on the back of my neck when I hear about them. Many of them have been around since I entered the fire service nearly four decades ago and seem to resurface from time to time. So, here goes.
I am tired of hearing about the plan to privatize the fire service. While there have been occasional forays into this, most have failed over time. They rarely survive in the long run and usually come about when someone thinks they can think outside the box and make a name for themselves. When I hear the word “privatize,” it means to me that someone wants to make a profit from the basic governmental need of emergency service by under paying and under staffing. Someone thinks he can do it cheaper and hopes to reap the profit from the savings gained by paying poorly and not hiring enough people. The plan is to go as long as possible before disaster strikes or someone gets wise to the scam. In my opinion, it is not a case of whether or not the fire service should be public or private. It is about competent management and leadership. Poorly run organizations, whether public or private, will fail. Just calling them private doesn’t magically fix this.
I am tired of hearing that we need to run the fire service like a business. This is related to the above. Which businesses do you want me to emulate? One of the many that don’t last more than a year or two before failing? Corporations like Enron? Some of the banks or Wall Street businesses that contributed to the economic downturn? Maybe the auto companies that required a government bailout to stay in business? I hope you get my point. Saying you will operate as a business in a generic fashion does not ensure success. Good management practices do. In addition, government has more restrictions and a different rule book to play by. The playing field is not always level. Leadership and good management trump all else, and just saying that things should be run like a business is way too simplistic and indicates the proponent doesn’t know all the issues involved.
I am tired of hearing that communities that use a private service for EMS are getting it for free. Unless the fire department doesn’t respond at all, there is a cost. In most cases, the fire department is responding with a private service. There is a price for that, even if you use pure volunteers. It takes fuel to move the vehicle. There is more wear and tear when used more, necessitating earlier replacement. Add that to wages if the response if from a career or paid-on-call organization, and you see there is a cost. If you realize this, then the situation is one where government is subsidizing a private enterprise. I am not necessarily opposed to this but I just don’t like the implication that there is no cost in this model. Would we be able to privatize the trash collection and then provide municipal paid employees to supplement the private company’s staffing in order to complete the job? I hardly think people would then think they are getting free service.
I am tired of hearing that due to a reduction in the number of fires, there doesn’t need to be as many firefighters. Whether or not a department has one fire a year or one a day, the requirement to do the job if you want to have a positive outcome is the same. There are certain things that need to be done in order to resolve the emergency. Basically, there needs to be enough resources arriving on the scene in the timeframe where the outcome can make difference. You have to get water to the fire and do all the support work necessary to minimize damage and the risk to the responders. If a community doesn’t care if only one building a year burns down, then they should be willing to say that. Departments can’t put out the fire without the right resources, regardless of the number of fires they respond to. If a community can’t afford the resources or is unwilling to pay for them, that is its choice. But, it shouldn’t have anything to do with the number of firefighters needed.
Thank you for indulging me. There is not nearly the space needed to fully discuss and debate these issues and more than likely this will not change the fact that I will continue to hear about these things. Regardless, I feel better just talking about them!!!
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.