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Today we posted another article regarding cutbacks in a major metropolitan fire department. The Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers in trying to explain the proposed deactivation of seven fire companies added that, despite these proposed closings in Philadelphia, the fire department will continue to respond to "any and every emergency in an urgent and timely manner." I have no doubt that will be the case; the proud and ever capable firefighters of the city of Philadelphia will continue to respond in urgent and timely manner. The issue is that they will be responding with seven fewer companies.

The explanations provided by the commissioner included the fact that none of the current Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department employees will be laid off, which is indeed great news. In explaining these "deactivations," the commissioner and his staff provided statistical analysis of call volumes response times and other factors that typically are used to explain fire response and effectiveness. That is all well and good, however I'm sure the same set of statistics were used in some way or another to explain the very presence of those same companies. I imagine in those discussions there was talk of a firefighter safety, fireground efficiency, and tactical competence.

To simply say that fire trucks will be available in the area to respond is insufficient reason to eliminate existing engine companies and ladder companies from critical fire boxes. My hope is that the research was done correctly and that none of the brave Philadelphia firefighters are going to be put at any undue risk while operating without the seven companies. I'm sure that my sentiments are equally shared by those Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department members whose concern is probably more for the folks who they have sworn to protect than themselves.

Elsewhere in the country, we received news that the furloughs of the Atlanta (GA) Fire Department members are increasing to 10 hours per week. That means that the department, formerly staffed by 200 members per day, will currently be operating with somewhere around 150 to 125 members per day. The department recently took a 15 percent cut from the budget, went to three person staffing, and closed several companies. Atlanta has also had to implement rolling brownouts in various parts of the city, where companies are taken out of service intermittently.

As we all face uncertain economic times, in major metropolitan cities and small towns alike, we can only hope that the fire service leadership, both management and union alike, are collaborating to make intelligent and well-thought-out decisions regarding these highly volatile concerns. We hope that the politicians in charge of these cities are heeding the concerns of these dedicated public servants.

On another note, I recently spent a day in Charleston, South Carolina, with the IAFF peer fitness and hazardous materials training groups. I had the pleasure to visit with some of the IAFF leadership, and it's heartening to spend time with the professional staff that has been assembled by General President Harold Schaitberger of the IAFF. This team of dedicated professionals continues to impress me with the programs and the leadership they are providing. Next month the IAFF will be providing affiliate leadership and a labor-management initiative programs for their members. Both programs provide incredible insight and usefull training to the men and women of the American fire service who proudly belong to the IAFF.

While in Charleston, I got to visit again with some of my friends in the fire Department. I spoke briefly with their new fire chief, Tom Carr, who is excited about his new job and looks forward to the opportunities that he will have while serving in that fine city. Tom was accompanied by his new boss, Mayor Riley, who spoke briefly to the group and expressed his gratitude and his admiration of the IAFF. He also gave his commitment to continue to work tirelessly to make Charleston a model fire department. To those of us who have followed the tragedy of the Sofa Super Store fire, there can be little doubt that he means exactly what he said. And with Chief Tom Carr and the brave men and women of the Charleston (SC) Fire Department by his side, there's little doubt that they will be anything shy of successful.

posted by Bobby Halton
11/18/2008 07:07:00 PM

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