The reality is that as firefighters, our universal brotherhood takes a great deal of pride in doing the job, no matter what we have been given to do it. This resilience is something we are all proud of, but it comes back to haunt us sometimes when our requests for resources are denied but we figure out a way to do the job anyway. The only other profession that I can think of that operates like this is the military; if faced with an extreme situation, poor resources, and a mission, the military and firefighters use what they have to make it happen. If you can think of another, I'd love to hear about it.
Last year my wife went to Nepal on business and became enthralled with the people there and the country itself. I am always interested in learning about other places and the way people live, especially in regard to the fire service, and found that the fire department in Nepal's largest city, Kathmandu, is woefully understaffed and underequipped. The Kathmandu Valley is the capital region of Nepal. This area is a very densely populated community of 2.5 million people. What I find interesting is that while this city is huge and very dense, especially in comparison to many American towns and cities, there are five "engines" (an example of one of them is pictured here) serving the entire jurisdiction, according to Ekantipur.com, a local Nepalese newspaper.
The situation in Kathmandu, as well as many other emerging cities around the world, is grossly insufficient. Fires affect the poor disproportionally; While I was not able to see the city myself, in looking at my wife's pictures I see a lot of masonry construction, reminding me of many international communities I have visited personally, but a lot of the construction methodology is substandard. There is, in this case, an egregious lack of water supply, not only for potable water, but even water for fighting fire, which wouldn't necessarily have to be potable water. The infrastructure doesn't exist, nor can these people afford to implement it. And these issues only begin to touch the potential for disaster.
Here in the United States there are a distressing number of loudmouths who strongly believe, and use whatever bully pulpit they have at hand, to trash emergency service organizations. Instead of working to help firefighters serve the most vulnerable, these individuals want to change our method of delivery and continue to perpetuate the belief that there are plenty of shiny new fire trucks and lots of highly-paid public servants to provide fire protection for all. They continue to promote the idea that the fire service is a good example for what is killing our economy. Just look around: There is a perception that the fire service is just an old boys club, that we are overpaid, over-capitalized, and over-funded, and that our "service" consists of sitting around playing X-Box waiting on someone to have a bad day .
We have been able to develop methodologies not just for fighting fire, but to deliver emergency service, that are good practices. These concepts maximize our efficiency and save lives and property. But the conventional wisdom keeps us in the cycle of begging for resources, defending these requests often, and having to solve the needs of many with whatever we can cobble together. I know of many volunteer departments that continue to struggle in finding quality personnel. I know of many career departments who continue to endure cut after cut to their rosters. There are plenty of rural communities without ready access to fire protection. And a bigger problem associated with our role in the community leads to the discussion of emergency medical care, where sufficient numbers of Americans continue to die every year from mostly preventable causes. These are factors that could be tempered by more timely and better quality provision of service.
In my view, many politicians these days aren't real leaders. They are mouthpieces for their party's interests rather than representatives of the people. Instead of looking at what is really needed in the community, they repeat inflammatory rhetoric to divert the public from the actual issues: that regardless of political party, irresponsible behavior occurs on both sides of the aisle. As far as public spending goes, the funds spent on the fire service are not like Medicaid, Medicare, welfare, or many other programs that "take from the rich and give to the poor". Regardless of income, the fire service serves all. We may be utilized by the poor more frequently, but our programs are still delivered to all.
Our nation is currently shoring up regimes in countries whose people hate us. We are spending money supporting people for growing nothing, and we are bailing out banks who refuse to lend the money to the people who need it. But funding the fire service results in a direct improvement in the safety of our communities, protection of the investments we have already made, and keeps the people we care about in our lives.
The reality is this: the fire service across the planet is there for people in their time of need, regardless of race, creed, or walk of life. We continue to do our job despite being failed by leaders who are more interested in helping out special groups and their partisan interests than they are about the safety of the public, despite their claims of support. We vote and we can be vocal about our dissatisfaction with the status quo. When a politician says we "benefit" from tragedy and feels like they can get away with that kind of rhetoric, there are serious problems in the mindset of the governing bodies. And in communities around the world, where the resources are scarce, we as a brotherhood should work together to help these people get the support they need. We together must step forward and get it right.
Also on Firehouse Zen …
- Your Altruism Is Hereby Noted – January 28, 2013
- Perfect Alignment – April 14, 2012
- Loyalty and Trust – July 16, 2012
- Mourning The Loss of Free Speech, Ham-Handed Chiefs, and How We Got Here – November 16, 2012