Today’s professional firefighters are trained to respond to all kinds of emergencies — a big difference from their predecessors 25 years ago.
Emergency medical response, building collapse/search and rescue, high angle rescue, hazardous materials incidents, automobile accidents, swift water rescue, wildland firefighting, domestic terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and active shooter incidents are many of the duties performed by firefighters. And yes, they still fight fires. In 2013, more than 1 million fires were reported with lives saved in the process.
Some attention seekers have recently quibbled with the term ‘firefighter,” including Fred S. McChesney (“Too many firefighters?” Sunday) a former Big Tobacco lobbyist and economist-for-hire turned University of Miami professor, whose opinion piece was published by the Washington Post.
For an academic, McChesney makes a pretty thin argument, and many of his statements are simply untrue. A point-by-point take down of McChesney’s column would be voluminous and simplistic. So we will limit our rebuttal to a few key points.
First, we agree that the International Association of Fire Fighters is a powerful union. And we do not apologize for advocating that firefighters deserve to earn a good living for the risks they take in the performance of their job on behalf of their communities and country.
We also agree that fires across the United States are decreasing. That is occurring for a number of reasons. One big one is the work of firefighters in the community on fire prevention activities, such as fire safety inspections and public education.
And while firefighters are performing these duties, the IAFF and its affiliates are working at the federal, state and local levels to strengthen public safety through better building construction codes, promoting the use of non-toxic flame retardants and improving sprinkler and smoke detector laws that are credited with the decrease in fires and fire-related injuries and deaths.
Recent studies by the National Institute of Standards and Technology examining response to high-rise and residential structure fires show that the only effective way to limit fire spread and minimize loss of life and property is by ensuring the right number of trained firefighters arrive on the scene quickly with the right equipment. In addition, a powerful study by Arizona State University shows cities that strive to adequately staff their departments with career firefighters are also lessening property loss and fire-related injuries and death. The study showed that in a three-month period from June 1 to Aug. 12, 2012, response to fires by an adequately staffed Phoenix Fire Department saved an estimated 2,300 jobs and $10.6 million in adjusted state tax revenues.
The professor also misleads his audience by stating that most communities have separate ambulance services, allowing readers to believe that fire departments are just duplicating work. Yet, in an overwhelming majority of communities in the United States, emergency medical care and transport are provided by career fire departments with firefighters who maintain basic and advanced life support certifications.
This system works well because fire stations are set up throughout each community to respond quickly. And for an elderly person in cardiac arrest or a child with head trauma and bleeding in a car accident, having a trained firefighter there to administer CPR or to pry the child out of the car with the Jaws of Life is critical.