Doing the Maximum with Very Little

Chris Mc Loone

A fan of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Facebook page recently commented on a picture shared there. There were two pieces of apparatus in the image-a 2005 engine and a 1984 tanker (tender), both in service with the same department.

He commented that there are many departments in the United States that are operating with dated equipment and that many departments talk about how hard they have it when they actually have a new truck parked in the station full of equipment that the crew needs to do its job. He said, “Put yourself in a real station that struggles but works with what it has and strives to be the best it can be with what it has.” Pretty strong words there. He later sent a picture that we featured containing three of his department’s apparatus. The newest apparatus in the picture is a 1979 Ford pumper. All three apparatus are from the 1970s.

Recent years have seen the fire service endure some of the toughest times it has experienced. Terms like “multipurpose apparatus” are the result of these times. The economy tanked, municipalities scaled back their budgets, and consequently the number of new apparatus purchased went down. Departments merged two trucks into one-not an entirely new concept, but for many it became a new necessity. Staffing levels dropped. But for many, this was nothing new.

We’re lucky enough to have Carl Haddon, our “To the Rescue” columnist, who sheds much-needed light on the issues that impact rural fire departments in his monthly “Rurally Speaking” Web article. The fact is that for many of us, the current “do more with less” mantra is relatively new. Fire departments have always struggled to secure the same funding as our police brethren, but for many of us with 20 or fewer years of service, adjusting to the current atmosphere has been a challenge. This is not so, however, for departments like Haddon’s. They have endured much worse for much longer. He says, “We laugh in frustration when we hear phrases such as ‘additional resources’ because we know that additional resources are at least a couple of hours away-if they are available at all. I don’t know about you, but throughout my tenure with a rural department, I have often felt as though we are an island that the rest of the world doesn’t really understand.” The realities that many municipalities have faced since 2008 are nothing compared to what rural fire departments have faced for far longer.

And now, the fire service trade show season is ramping up. As it does, there is always a buzz revolving around upcoming product introductions, whether they be apparatus- or equipment-related. I’ll be at some of the national shows and some of the regional shows. I’ll be there for both work and my fire company. I’ll be keeping tabs on what’s new on the apparatus and equipment fronts as our apparatus purchasing committee begins creating specifications for a new rescue truck. However, there are many who will not be able to get to any show, not even to kick tires. For these departments, the realities are that no matter what the innovation is, how great it is, or how it will increase efficiencies on the fireground, it is unattainable in most cases.

And, the worst part is that there isn’t an easy answer. Economies of scale are what they are. Although the audience member seemed frustrated at the realities before him, there was also an undercurrent of pride. “Put yourself in a real station that struggles but works with what it has and strives to be the best it can be with what it has,” he said. That pride is what I think pervades all aspects of the fire service.

There isn’t a firefighter or fire officer around who does not take pride in his department or company. If you don’t, then you need to move on. Every one of us aspires to do our best with what we have. It is true that most of us are asked to do more with less. However, remember that there is a larger group that has been doing the absolute maximum with very little for a very long time.

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