The Importance of Grass Roots

By Chris Mc Loone

I had a chance to give a presentation recently to a group of apparatus operators (engineers) in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The group meets every other month on a Wednesday evening at different fire stations across the county. The leader of the group asked if I would come and speak about what I see happening with fire apparatus.

It was harder than I thought distilling what I see happening with fire apparatus into 45 minutes to an hour. I pulled it off, but it wasn’t easy. That the group is pretty lively helped out, and it was nice seeing a few familiar faces from fire companies local to me. Still, it was a bit daunting, but I made it through relatively unscathed.

The importance of this small association is immeasurable to me though. Montgomery County is a pretty diverse county when it comes to occupancies. The southeast end of the county is very suburban-almost urban in some areas-while the northwest end is still very rural. At the northwest end, you’ll still find farms and wide open spaces as well as wildland concerns. So, the group moving to different areas affords members the opportunity to see what other departments are doing with their apparatus and equipment based on their locale. Although the southeast end won’t get to see many grain elevator fires or silo rescues, all areas of the county will see work in the form of structure fires in dwellings and commercial occupancies of various ages and construction, vehicle rescues on both highways and local roads, and various types of technical rescues ranging from industrial rescues to trench and confined space. So, representatives from each end of the county would be hard pressed to say that one department or another doesn’t offer something to take back home in terms of innovation.

About Learning

This is what it’s all about though-learning from one another. What has always impressed me about the fire service is how we all borrow from each other, and yes, sometimes claim we thought of something before another department, but it’s always in the name of efficiency, innovation, safety, and the greater good of the fire service as a whole.

So, this group has asked me to continue coming, not to speak all the time but to be a part of the association. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully as I see things at other fire companies, I’ll be able to snap a picture and bring them back here. So many innovations are home-grown and very practical.

All of this of course begs the question, “What did you talk about?” I really did not deviate much from what I’ve written here, although it is hard to talk about what I see happening with fire apparatus without first touching on various outside influences, which have been the economy, in a big way; EPA regulations, which have been impacting us for the past few years and will continue to as the EPA works to reduce greenhouse emissions; and safety. All of these lead toward innovation-both at the department level in how it is designing its apparatus and at the manufacturer level as apparatus builders work on new offerings to address what some call the new norm in the fire industry.

Critical Groups

Grass roots organizations like the Montgomery County Engineers Association are critical to the fire service. Get a bunch of firefighters in one place, and you’ll soon have impromptu kitchen table conversations about your most recent job, your newest rig, and a fair amount of Monday morning quarterbacking. But, what you’re also going to find is a group of people working together to solve problems both at their own departments and countywide. These organizations are the ones that are closest to the men and women driving and operating these apparatus.

At the end of the night, we had some interesting conversations. One revolved around tankers (tenders) and whether or not it’s a good idea to run them with lights and sirens and whether or not to drive at speeds greater than 40 miles per hour. There are areas of Montgomery County without adequate hydrant systems, so we are also a county that supports tankers. I heard a familiar statement-that some of the people driving these rigs just aren’t used to them or are extremely young. It’s something we all need to consider when training our drivers and operators. Sometimes necessity dictates that a 19- or 20-year-old “kid” is going to get behind the wheel. But as fire department leaders, we had better make sure they are trained to the hilt to operate these trucks.

Thanks to the Montgomery County Engineers Association for asking me to stop by and speak at the meeting and also for allowing me to be a participant.

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