Let’s Take an Unemotional Look at the Problem

While I have been pursuing the discussion on The Kitchen Table only peripherally as I have been very busy lately, I noted an undertone of something that I guess has nagged at me for quite some time.  After thinking about it for a few days, I realized that the issues could actually be approached from a very pragmatic view which I'd love to share with you all today.

Let's just clarify some statements.  I was not at FDIC for the big discussion, so I am only acting on what I am reading.  But let's just say that the argument that some organizations are too worried about safety and are not pursuing fires aggressively enough, and are therefore doing a disservice to their communities is a valid one.  And let's also bring into play another thing I keep hearing, that it is ridiculous to refer to the people we serve as "customers", as also valid, although I think that customers is a better term for them than some of the other names I have called them under my breath at 0400.  But I digress.

So then, what are they?  Well, I guess the best thing to say is that they are "taxpayers".  After all, our service is largely supported by tax revenue in one way or another, so I think that is probably a pretty accurate definition, although I could argue that some of them aren't paying taxes and maybe should be deserving of no service, but then again, I digress.  Let's say that even in a community that supports a robust volunteer response agency by way of donations only, the citizens and other potential users are in some form or fashion, paying for a service in which they expect some competency, timeliness, and efficiency.

As users of funds that don't belong to us (they belong to YOU, the taxpayers), I would expect that you probably hold us (the emergency service providers) to a higher expectation, simply because on a daily basis, you don't use our service.  Therefore, you continue to pay fees, taxes, and donations in the hope that, God forbid, if you needed us, we would come.  And if we did come, we would be prepared, equipped, and with sufficient resources to bring the disaster to bear.

Furthermore, I would expect that as a taxpayer, you expect any funds expended would be done so in a responsible manner.  You would expect some financial discipline, that the agency would be responsible and accountable, and that any real property and other assets would be lovingly cared for and maintained, just as if it belonged to someone else.  Because you know what, THEY DO.  Those red trucks and your uniforms and everything else was paid for by someone else (in most cases).

Likewise, if I, as a taxpayer, saw you doing something irresponsible with those assets, I'd be upset, regardless of how right you thought it was.  If you were using those assets recklessly, I'd suggest that perhaps you should consider that I worked very hard to acquire the funds with which I surrendered to you for the purpose of protecting my community, and I'd rather that you used good judgement in how you used that asset.  Just as I'd hope none of you would drive an engine into a burning building to put the fire out, I'd ask that if you did see some compelling reason to do so, that maybe you would share it with me so I too, could be enlightened and could understand.

Therefore, when I (as a Battalion Chief for the organization I work for) am given a certain number of assets, paid for by you the taxpayer, entrusted to care for and to use prudently, efficiently, and competently to provide emergency service, I take it VERY seriously.  I am, believe it or not, a pretty conscientious guy.  And when those assets include, but are not limited to, a station, an engine and truck company, a bunch of expensive equipment, and most importantly, the eight people assigned to those companies, I am called upon to use the best judgement and skill to bring those assets together to create a life-saving, fire-kicking, roof-chopping machine.

However, if I (as the BC), fail to take a reasonable assessment of each situation in hand, and determine the real problem, the cost involved, and the efficacy of the plan using the assets I have, I am negligent in my duties as a steward of the public trust.  I would hope that the fire service has come far enough that you all see yourselves as better than cannon fodder, but I really think that sometimes, the thought that we aren't anymore, troubles some of you.

If I have a life that needs to be saved, I will risk a lot to save a lot.  If I have a reasonable expectation that to take a little risk, I can make a significant difference in the outcome of the emergency, I will weigh my options against the risk and put my plan into effect if so moved.  But I absolutely refuse to believe that in this day and age, with insurance companies condemning a structure in which firefighters died saving, that this is a GOOD thing, well, if not for the emotional attachment I have to my brother firefighters, as a steward of taxpayer funds, I'd suggest that it is neither wise, prudent, efficient, etc., etc.  In fact, now that I have opened us up for the possible long-term care of injured firefighters, the possible loss of civilian lives, the possible lawsuits, the unbelievable amount of time that will be required investigating the loss, and the mounds of paperwork, my decision to do so would be such that any reasonable individual would take one look at it and say, "What were you thinking?"

Again, taking the emotional aspect of it out of play, people screamed bloody murder about a plane flight over New York that cost the taxpayers over a quarter-million dollars (not to mention the sheer stupidity of the decision, but again, I digress), think of how angry taxpayers would be if you said that you just chucked several million dollars out the window in insurance claims, medical bills, replacement personnel, and overtime to deal with this problem? 

Hey, if you don't want to approach safety from an emotional and traditional standpoint, then don't.  But as a responsible supervisor of taxpayer funds, failing to approach this from a purely pragmatic standpoint, is more than just foolish, it is irresponsible.

1 Comment

  • Peter Lupkowski says:

    Thanks for the reasoned and responsible review. I have not commented on these FDIC “Greek Style Oratories” primarily because there is a grain of truth in all of them. One can make an argument that we have reigned in operations for a number of years. Maybe it’s time to loosen up the reigns or direct the team right or left. In any event thought provoking discussion is always good.

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