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We are not all "Big City Fire Departments"

We are not all “Big City Fire Departments”

By Lou Comenale and Justin Ientilluci

We see the hats, t-shirts, posters and even TV shows that advertise the “Big City” fire departments.  The reality is, we all can’t be the big city.  Most of us work or volunteer,  in comparison, small towns, in all types of departments (Paid, Combination, Paid on Call or all Volunteer).  It’s nice to think we can operate like a big city but in reality  it is not possible.  If you are privileged enough to be a paid firefighter, in this day and age you most likely are running on a skeleton crew.  If you are noble enough to volunteer for your community, you probably do not know what your crew is going to be call to call.  Firefighters that work in these conditions need to understand that, there isn’t always going to be a “Can Man,” “Irons Man,” or “Outside Vent.”  Depending on how your department runs the fire ground  some of these tasks or riding positions might not happen.  Even though these tasks are not happening “by the book” the job still needs to get done and there isn’t time to complain about it.  In most situations, these tasks or riding positions are usually combined into one firefighter or maybe split between two.  We are becoming “Jack of all master of none” firefighters.  This still is no excuse for not being proficient at these tasks, if anything it is a reason to train even more on these tasks.  Water still needs to get on the fire, this usually makes all other problems go away on the fire ground.  

In our home department, which is a combination department, we staff an Engine, Quint and Captain’s SUV/Command Vehicle.  If we are fully staffed there is an Lieutenant and two Firefighters on the Quint, three Firefighters on the Engine, and a Captain in a SUV, there is also two Paid Chiefs and one Volunteer Chief.  Depending on how the companies arrive on scene, time of day, day of week, the Engine could be doing “Engine Work” or “Truck Work” the same goes for the crew on the Quint.  This is something we have to deal with, some deal with it better than others.  The simple way to overcome this quandary is TRAINING, but to really overcome this mentality of “well that’s how they do it in .....(Insert the closet city to your department) is a culture change.  

The firefighters in your department need to realize that your town is not the FDNY, or Chicago FD, even Phoenix FD.  If they want to work in those departments the will need to first move to those cities, establish residency, take a test, score high enough, hopefully get hired.  It seems smarter to embrace the department that you are in and strive to make it the best department it can be.  We all need to take a look at ourselves in the mirror and realize what we actually are.  Only then will we be able to become the best fire department that we can be.


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Comment by Lou Comenale on November 17, 2013 at 12:12pm


Justin and I completely agree with you that a lot of what we learn comes from the busier departments which tend to be the bigger city companies.  We were hoping to just have guys from departments like ours (a combination department that serves a population of 34,000 and runs about 3,000 calls for service a year), have to realize they we can't be stuck in the mindset that we can operate like big cities where they send fifty plus guys to a report of a structure fire.  In comparison the city of Rochester, NY sends any where from three engines, a Truck, a rescue, and a battalion chief for a fire.  Whereas our department sends our On-duty staff which fully staffed is seven personnel, tones out for the volunteers, and depending on where the fire is in our district, we have a pre planned mutual assist company, one of which is another volunteer department.  With staffing levels like that we have to be more flexible in what our companies on scene are preforming, just because you ride an Engine or a Truck to a fire does not mean you will be doing Engine or Truck work.

Comment by Cody S. Anderson on November 16, 2013 at 5:11pm

I agree that we need to compare apples to apples, but the trend I see where I work is departments (chiefs and some senior men) become resentful of the brothers in the big cities and they squash any and all ideas that come to them from the big city. How many times have I heard "this isn't the FDNY" or "if you like Denver FD so much, why don't you go and work there?" It gets old. The fact remains, many of the guys in these big cities can teach us a lot about our job even though it's not as big as their job. Fire follows the same laws of physics in big cities as it does in small towns. Building construction is very similar in many regards no matter where you live. Firefighters are dying from the same issues all over the country. We would do well to learn from whoever is willing to teach us. Often that happens to be the guys from the bigger jobs. I say bring it. Be open to new ideas and possibilities. If it really won't work in your small department, then no problem. Set it aside. But how many small department chiefs could have learned to do this job better if they were just willing to swallow their pride and take some advice from the big boys in the city? The guys in the big departments tend to get more opportunities to be in the spotlight. Let's make sure we aren't so naïve to think that what they are trying to teach us doesn't have application in our own backyard.

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