Cutbacks of this magnitude have only occurred two other times in the past century. The event that caused the first set of cutbacks was the transition from horsedrawn apparatus to motorized apparatus in the early 1900s. Prior to that time, the edges of a company's first-due area was set by the stamina of the horses that pulled the appratus. With equine stamina no longer being a factor, firehouses could be located farther apart, so many companies were disbanded.
The 1990's were the decade of Technical Rescue. Standardized, innovative extrication practices were invented by firefighters who became famous by the way they taught others how to rapidly and safely cut patients free from the wreckage of their vehicles. The Urban Search and Rescue system was expanded and received its first major domestic test at the Oklahoma City bombing incident. Rescue training became a major focus. Other new job descriptions, those of Extrication Technican and Technical Rescue Technician became common.
There was more good news, for us, though. We were able to purchase a standardized pumper fleet for the first time in department history. We also standardized hose loads, nozzles, and initial company operations for all of our engine companies for the first time in our history. We were also able to standardize our nozzle complements and pump operations, also for the first time. Our capital improvements budget was scheduled for two fire station replacements. One of these was delayed, but we have a badly-needed station replacement under construction. Our department became the first in our state to join the CARES registry that tracks cardiac arrest survival to hospital discharge. We also began a STEMI program with local hospitals and two neighboring EMS systems, with two of our officers coordinating these programs and implemented a department-wide electronic patient care reporting system. We also implemented an new SOG and policy system, obtained new turnout gear, and implemented new extrication tools.
What will 2010 hold? For my department, we now have to operate the new training center, complete the new fire station project, and hopefully manage the construction of the station that was delayed from 2009. We will be receiving two new quints and training all of our personnel to operate them. The training center will be a busy place.
We need to continue to preach - and practice the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives.
We need to take care of our own and work to maintain what we have.
We need to be honest with our elected officials and citizens - cutbacks can and do hurt our ability to provide services.
We need to realize that operating "the way we've always done it" will result in Russian Roulette at best, and suicide at worst.
We need to be smart enough to stay out of Born Losers.
We need to conduct realistic Master Planning.
We need to educate the public - CPR classes, First Aid classes, car seat installations, Risk Watch programs, and Fire Prevention classes can and do save lives.
Last, but not least, we need to get make our departments missionaries for residential sprinkler programs and the new building code that requires their installation on new construction. It's past time that we use our influence at the state and national level to overcome the contruction industry's misperception that saving a few cents per square foot on new home construction is worth someone's life.
The departments that plan, adapt, innovate, and market themselves will flourish. The ones that do not will become anachronisms, consigned to a never-ending vicious cycle of manpower cuts, station closures, brownouts, and budget cuts.