Earlier this year I accepted a position on our local Fire Department Board of Directors. I have always been a strong advocate for emergency services of all kinds and welcomed the experience. Like the military, where being around it is not being in it, my knowledge relative to the fire service was limited to working with them at accidents and occasional traffic issues at really big fires. My appreciation for the services these folks provide has increased exponentially and is growing daily. Our district borders Springfield where their fire service is all career as opposed to our guys who are comprised of 14 career firemen (women) and 20 volunteers of which 18 are certified or close to certification.
A recent tax levy has enabled us to accelerate our efforts in growing, training and equipping our department. I was immediately struck by the sense of mission and dedication of these folks in providing this essential service. My respect is apparently not mirrored by the City of Springfield which has begun proceedings to annex the new county jail into the city thus removing us from providing fire and rescue coverage at this facility. The county, city or fire service in the city did not bother to involve us in the discussions relative to this annexation, which may be sound from a tactical perspective. Tactical considerations do not preclude courtesy or inter-agency communication. The failure of Springfield or the county to reach out to us should not be misread. Our department is fully capable of responding to the new jail if needed and we certainly know how to call for assistance in the unlikely event our response needed augmentation. Communication is the very soul of emergency response.
Let’s talk about the status of firefighting in America. In 2019 it was estimated there were 1,080,800 career and volunteer firefighters in our country, comprised of 358,000 career and 722,800 volunteers. It was estimated that 88,800 of these folks were female. These folks worked out of 29,537 organized departments nationwide. Missouri is home to 678 departments. Because of population density around our cities, 18% of these departments were either career or mostly career manned and protected 69% of the US population. Rural firefighting is no longer your grandfather’s drive like hell and attack a fire without benefit of fire science, tactical consideration and good equipment. Firefighting, just like policing, has evolved tremendously, and I am working hard to grasp the nuances.
Another consideration is basic life support. We also field a rescue component of trained professionals and volunteers who respond to accidents and other rescue scenarios. Their commitment is unsurpassed. I sat in on a class provided by a local ER physician as he educated our group on the strategies in handling the various overdose scenarios that are becoming quite common in a culture that is relaxing it’s guard against recreational drug use. In 2019, only 46% of fire departments offered basic life support and advanced rescue capabilities. My experiences is as a rural trooper, for the most part, and I can attest to the dignity these guys provide at scenes that were otherwise chaotic.
Let’s wrap this up. There are about 358,300 home based fires in America every year. The property damage is hard to estimate with today’s inflation but is believed to be well north of 12 billion dollars. The toll in human lives is north of 2600 a year. We lose an average of 80 firefighters each year, dying in the execution of their duties. My perspective relative to this essential profession has been altered from one of acceptance and appreciation to admiration and awe. Their commitment must never be underestimated and their thirst for increased knowledge must be fed. It is essential we continue to support our fire services, rural and urban. When you need them, you want the best available…….as quickly as possible.
Firefighters matter…..believe it!