Many FD's in my area are looking at regionalization in order to save money on resources. Politicians are talking with safety directors who are talking with chiefs. Some say it will never happen due to culture, but I think that the economy will press the decision makers into making changes. We have FD's within 1-2 miles of one another with duplicate resources(ladders, rescues, etc...). Economically we have to change to survive.
We recently notified 6 of the 7 people that we had scheduled for recruit class to let them know that we would not be able to take advantage of the SAFER grant that we had won and, therefore, would not be able to bring them on. Current predictions have us loosing a million dollars from our budget in 2009 and three million in 2010. That puts us at our 2005 numbers in the second fastest growing county in the state. The Fire Chief is doing a good job of staying ahead and preparing for the hit, but I’m having trouble coming to grips with the fact that our service is going to suffer while our state carries a significant surplus in the budget.
We are doing what needs to be done, and that is to cut the fat. I hope that this gets worked out before we have to cut deeper, but the answer is simple. We will have to do a good job of differentiating our needs from our wants. The wants will have to go. Sometimes those wants deal with activities like public education and fire prevention, which we have come to think of as a must. We are in a position that may require us to return to our foundation, which will put us in a defensive or reactionary approach to public safety. I hope this gets worked out.
Unfortunately, on my job we've had loss of companies. During the last year we have lost our heavy rescue company and a paramedic Lt. position. The worst part about it is that these crucial companies went under the chopping block with barely a whimper. Not much noise from the union, the chief or the public. My point here is not to cast the blame around, because there is plenty to spread around in and outside of our department, but rather to say that fire chiefs and unions have to "step up their game" during tough financial times. Historically, the measure of a company was in its run numbers. The chief always justifies the company by citing the number of runs a company had. The union would rely on neighborhood support by leafleting and press releases. "YOU don't want to loose YOUR fire company!!" Over the past few years when city hall threatened cuts that was the tactic and it was successful in preventing the cuts from coming earlier. Not this time, though. The public and city counselors got tired of hearing the same old song from the chief and the union. After all, times are hard all around. The vague "Lives are at stake" argument falls on deaf ears when people are worried they are going to loose their jobs or homes. "Stepping up your game" includes careful, measured analysis of response times, work load and other data that tell the public in a measurable way what we do. NFPA 1710 is a scientifically proven document that spells out the national standard for the minimum of what career depts need to do to be effective. There are so many resources out there for chiefs and union officials to draw upon! The IAFC, IAFF, NFPA, American Heart Assn., NREMT, etc! When, as we know, lives are truely in the balance we owe it to ourselves to "step up our game" when our most precious resource, our responders, is at risk.
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