Can’t Look Forward Without Looking Back

Quite frankly, 2018 has been a blur. Things are moving so rapidly sometimes that I’m lucky if I can remember what I did yesterday let alone back in the beginning of the year.

Chris Mc Loone

I guess some of the things that stand out were some of the larger apparatus and equipment deliveries this year, which means fire departments nationwide remain in a buying mode. That some of the deliveries were for extrication equipment or self-contained breathing apparatus was important as well. We often focus on the fire apparatus orders, but there are some departments making big investments at once on the equipment side.

I went back and looked at my editorial from December 2017, and I wrote about the concerted effort the fire service was making toward cancer awareness and prevention. We were just starting to really hear about the “Clean Cab Concept” and other initiatives like deconning right away upon leaving a fire building or bagging personal protective equipment before leaving the fireground so it can be sent out immediately for laundering. This year, we began to hear about deliveries—both equipment and fire apparatus—that were specifically designed to help reduce exposure to contaminants. In a way, last year was theoretical and this year is actual. We’re seeing the deliveries and proof of concept.

One topic that was hard to avoid during 2018 was that of aluminum and steel tariffs. There will be more on that in our 2019 outlook article (see the cover story), and certainly the hope is that any impact as these tariffs are imposed will be minimal and that plans for expenditures on things like fire apparatus will be able to proceed.

I always look at FDIC International as a way to see how things are in the marketplace, and this year’s show proved that the market is in a good place. We saw a number of companies that merged in 2017 making their debut as new entities in 2018, and they made their debut with a bang. I think there were more fire trucks this year than in any of the previous 12 FDIC Internationals I’ve been to—which is a great thing. Manufacturers are building a lot of trucks and are eager to show them off.

This year, for a lot of reasons, has been one of looking back for me—not only to 2017 but even farther. 2018 marked my 25th year as a firefighter. My sons are beginning to ask me about what’s involved in joining the fire company, which makes me look back to when I joined. It’s a safer fire service today. All the debates about firefighting tactics aside, when you look at what was a 15-year-old fire truck in 1993 and what is a 15-year-old fire truck today, the difference is night and day. Radio communication was different; we didn’t have any thermal imaging cameras; checking to make sure the pump wasn’t overheating meant putting an ungloved hand on the steamer connection’s pipe; and diesel exhaust in the firehouse was just part of the game.

Yes, should they choose to join, my kids will definitely be entering a safer fire service from an equipment perspective. They will be thrown into debates over combination fog nozzles vs. smooth bore, straight stick vs. platform, midmount aerials vs. rear-mount, and hard-wired trucks vs. multiplexed trucks, to name a few. But they will be that much closer to every firefighter having a two-way radio on the fireground. They will be part of a generation of firefighters who won’t remember a time when every firefighter didn’t have some sort of thermal imaging device as they enter burning structures. They may not be issued two personal sets of turnout gear, but they will be in a fire service where when you wear one set in a fire, you’ll be issued another set to use until the next fire or next exposure. They will definitely be in a generation that will not walk into the firehouse and immediately think, “Aw man, I missed a job,” because of how turnout gear and crew cabs smell.

So, it’s not easy to predict the future or what 2019 will bring. I have my hopes, as we all do. But in looking back at a time many of us joined the fire service, it is certain that the fire service and fire industry will continue to work together to provide as safe a fireground as we can get without totally eliminating the chance for a fire.

Happy holidays from the entire staff of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.

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