Fire Service Limbo

As the “economy” continues to wane, the fire service continues to be bashed by poor leadership and one sided statistics which show room for more cuts.

Some say the economy is on an upturn. I am not an economist.

Fire Departments are not a new casualty to money issues. Actually, Fire Departments were being cut long before the economy went south. The FD’s were an easy target by politicians for downsizing when their special interest programs needed funding. Simply cut the FD’s and use the “new” money to fund their special pet projects. Once one person did it and got away with it, everyone else saddled up. The continual cuts to FD’s became an issue that firefighters kept raising their eyebrow to.

When the economy took the downturn, the FD’s continued to become the whipping post for budget cuts. Now more than ever, the politicians have been able to sell their downsizing ideas to the public. What the public isn’t shown is how the FD’s have been continually cut since way before the economy turned.

It is a simple sell to the public. We don’t want to increase your taxes so we have to make these cuts. People eat that up. They don’t want to pay more taxes.

That is where the Fire Service Limbo comes in. Just how low can we go?

Let us look at it this way…

Take the 80’s at the end of “America Burning”. FD’s were fully staffed, in service, and well fed. We had what we needed and didn’t ask for much. We ran emergencies. False alarms existed, but were usually handled if possible to curb future false calls.

By the 90’s, most City FD’s had merged with their EMS counterparts. The intent was good, most department merges were not handled ideally though. In the end, some departments still suffer the effects of poor merge practices/planning. Soon after, management realized that we had many more personnel and could cross-train Fire/EMS to create all in one employees.

By the end of the 90’s, we had trimmed the “fat” of the departments. We closed down engine companies and ladder companies because we can utilize the firefighter/EMT’s on the ambulances as the contingent of firefighters on scene of fire calls. We still have the same number of firefighters on calls, just not the same makeup of apparatus on those calls.

By 2000, we saw the need to continue twisting statistics. FD’s cut the amount of apparatus on responses, cut firefighters on rigs, cut more engine companies. Raises became intermittent, benefits became huge bargaining chips, health insurance premiums steadily increased. The Fire Service became younger, the training became harder to get on duty. Firefighters who were once hired to become firefighter/EMT’s were now hired to become Firefighter/ALS (paramedics and EMT-Intermediate). Fire calls increased, EMS calls increased.

Which brings us to now. We have seen administration positions continue to increase to help with all the bean counting, regulations, and pet projects. Much like private business, managers increase the amount of subordinates to make their jobs easier. FD’s see brownouts, closures, and lay offs. Firefighters see increased insurance premiums, lost benefits, loss of annual raises, loss of merit raises, loss of longevity raises, loss of overtime, fewer firefighters on rigs, fewer firefighters on scene, longer response times, waiting longer to get enough firefighters on scene, decreasing morale, less training, more regulations.

That is just a snapshot of what I see as the economical/management crippling of the fire service. This goes for EMS too. I realize that all of us may not be affected by all of these situations and others may see worse.

The limbo continues. It is only a matter of time before we will find ourselves laying flat on our back.