Independence Day - July 4 - is a uniquely American holiday. Many of us treat it like just another summer holiday - a barbecue, swimming or boating, relaxing with friends, and concluding with an evening of fireworks. This year, I ask you to take a few minutes to do something a little different. The American Revolution was the brain child of a few people who resolved to risk their businesses, their fortunes, and their very lives to gain independence from Great Britain. After a war that destroyed lives and property, they achieved their aim. How did they achieve independence? They achieved it by working and fighting - together - to overcome a common enemy. They were not willing to give up, to back down, or to compromise on the essentials of what they believed to be right. When he said "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately", Benjamin Franklin understood the dichotomy that in order for America to become independent, the people fighting for that independence had to be mutually dependent by "hanging together". Benjamin Franklin was a firefighter, and he understood the community's mutual dependence upon the fire department as the protector of lives, property, and commerce, too.
Patrick Henry, another early American patriot, advised constant vigilance when being faced with the loss of freedom and mutual happiness and prosperity. He also understood the value of being able to jointly determine our common fate. His comment..."The battle, Sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, Sir, we have no election."
In 2009, the American Fire-Rescue and EMS services are under attack, in a different way from how our country was in 1776, but under attack no less. We are under attack from the global economy that steals revenue from our cities and counties. We are under attack from increasing call volumes while under pressure to reduce staffinug and to make that old apparatus last "just one more year". We are under attack from citizens that want us to be there in their hour of need, but who don't understand the realities of making the services available in a rapid and safe manner. Our funding is under attack from politicians and administrators that see the economic meltdown as a way to permenently reduce the costs of providing fire, rescue, and EMS services.
So, how do we "hang together" to overcome these problems?
An example is the Boston firefighters who - on their own time - staffed firehouses that would have otherwise been browned out. Columbia and Irmo, SC firefighters recently worked together to fight a house fire near both city's boundaries. Sylvania Township, OH firefighters set up a live burn for some of their elected officials - officials that had previously opposed a 1.5 mil fire tax increase. My department jointly operates three special teams (Hazmat, COBRA/WMD, and USAR) with our good friends from Bluffton Township Fire & Rescue. These are just a few examples of creative ways to work together to maintain and improve Fire/Rescue and EMS services when we can no longer just throw money at every problem.
Like it or not, we're mutually dependent on our neighboring Fire/Rescue and EMS departments, our elected officials, and our public administrators. We need to foster creative ways to use that mutual dependence to our mutual benefit. If you don't like running mutual aid or automatic aid with a neighboring department, get together, work out the problems, and start helping each other. If your services are being cut due to the economy, do your homework, get the facts, and enlist community support to help minimize the cuts. If you are at odds with your public administrators and/or elected officials, invite them to participate in a live burn, extrication demonstration, or a CPR class to find out just how physically demanding our jobs really are...and why it takes that expensive manpower to do the job safely.
Once you determine the best way to foster the mutual dependence with the other stakeholders, follow Benjamin Franklin's advice and "Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve."
Tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States. Remember the people who fought to make it so, and in the words of our most famous early firefighter "Where liberty dwells, there is my country." Let's foster our mutual dependence to provide the people whom we serve Liberty - Liberty from fire, entrapment, and the loss of loved ones and livelihood. Pointing out our mutual dependence can go a long way toward improving bad relationships. Remember Great Britain, our enemy in 1776 and again in 1812? They're now our closest ally, sharing mutual dependence.