Out of My Mind: Cancer, Budgets, Wildfires, and Volunteering

By Rich Marinucci

Anyone who watches the morning news on television will see numerous commercials on behalf of attorneys looking for clients. Many of these are appealing to those who may have been exposed to asbestos or have used a particular weed killer. Recently I saw one appealing to those who had been exposed to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.) This one specifically mentioned firefighters. There are various opinions as to this tactic and the actions of the attorneys. It is not my place to place judgement. But, a question that I have is that now that many forms of cancer show an increased rate for those in the firefighting profession and many states have enacted presumption laws, will we see a case where the family of a firefighter sues a community for not taking steps to minimize the risks that firefighters face. Is there now a reasonable expectation to have extractors or washers available and second sets of turnout gear? Just asking.

Are there any fire chiefs (or departments) that get a bonus if they come in under budget? I realize that some chiefs may get rewarded for being good stewards, but more often I see it as an expectation with no incentive to not spend all that is budgeted. I am not advocating spending willy-nilly (always wanted to use that word in an article!), and all employees have the responsibility to be judicious in their use of public funds. But in some cases, there are disincentives to spend less. I know of organizations that reset their starting point based upon the actual expenditures. So, if someone works hard and doesn’t spend all that is budgeted, the new starting point is the actual expenditure from the previous year. So, if you don’t spend it all, you start the next year with less. This is not just applicable to fire departments either, but if you were in charge of a budget and there were no positive incentives to come in under budget, it would seem to me that one would target expending all that is allotted.

As I write this, there are many wildland fires burning in California. It is tragic, no doubt. I am not sure how people deal with this continual threat without changing the way things are. I have no idea what the ultimate solution is. I live in a state that gets rain, snow, has high humidity, and you are never too far from a body of water. But if I was in an area subject to this seemingly annual occurrence, I would either move or work to minimize the effect (if this is even possible.) My guess is that people really enjoy their lifestyle and take the risks with the rewards. How many return back into the interface after rebuilding? One interesting thing is that even those far from the danger (like those near me) are very interested in what is happening due to the media coverage. These folks often bring this up as a discussion point and ask about the potential here. There is certainly a lack of understanding, but I look at it as opportunity to discuss the challenges faced locally. Any chance to promote the fire service is good and these unfortunate events far away still provide a reason to discuss the critical issues of fire prevention, staffing, and adequate resources to do the job.

I continue to hear from non-fire folks about the decline in paid-on-call and volunteer firefighters. They don’t understand the problem. I have started asking if they would like an application. They say they don’t have the time. I then ask if they have any family members, friends, neighbors, or business associates. Of course, the answer is still the same. I then say that this is why there is a problem. Their acquaintances are no different than anyone else. I then let them know that efforts are being made in many places, but the challenges are the same and it is not an issue likely to go away soon.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). 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 and Fire Engineering 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.

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