Service, Effort, and Mathematics

Level of service is not the same as level of effort. Let it be clear.

With the potential reallocation of fire resources the citizens of this nation can still expect to receive top service from people who care but don’t be surprised if it takes a little longer to get it to your living room. It is simple math – algebra really – fewer resources responding from further away means it takes us longer to get there. 

This is due not to an apathetic group of firefighters, we still care deeply for the public that we serve and for the great and noble profession we represent.

These are statements of fact and are not subject to interpretation.

It’s about the reputation of quality organizations, with superior employees that have been devalued and denigrated by those seeking to bring down a proud and storied service.

It’s about truth and ethics.

Stop by a firehouse and have a talk with the crews. You’ll find a group of people who are active, caring members of a community in which they cannot afford to live. These public servants help make your community the safe and desirable place that it is, and part of why you pay so much for the home that you live in.

The entire nation is suffering financially – as public servants we accept this reality and are on board attempting to share the burden of the budget crisis with other public service agencies. Your public servants will still answer the call for service and deliver an outstanding product but to understand our frustration you must know that our angst is only partially due to the fact that we must tighten our belts. 

We get it.

Our aggravation has roots in the fact that we might not be able to serve our customers to the level in which we – firefighters and citizens alike – have grown accustomed to. We feel much better hearing, “You got here so fast,” rather than, “What took you so long?”

We think the citizens feel the same way.

Firefighters will not be tardy in arriving to the scene of your emergency because they are dragging their feet getting out of the station when the bell hits. There will be no work slow down when it comes to emergency response. I don’t know any of my brothers and sisters who will compromise their principals by not hustling to the fire engine when the bell strikes. Our commitment to the community and to each other runs too deep. Frustration arises when city officials prey on this commitment, continually taking away funding from training, personnel, and equipment; expecting the same outstanding product but not wanting to support it.

Efficiencies do not always translate into effectiveness.

In order to be ready to serve our – adopted – communities in the most effective manner many of us must train on our days off at our own expense. We are the ones at the gym, in the classroom, studying our every weakness. We sit around and think about them, we plot and plan on ways to improve. We attend to every detail. We work on our weaknesses and overcome them, to better serve the community.

“We will always be ready. Hopefully, we will always be there.”

Those of us the make the commitment – to ourselves and to the adopted community – do so willingly, recognizing that the cities we work for are often happy to accept the lowest common denominator when it comes to the level of preparation to deliver service, because it is cheap. 

We will not tolerate this. 

Mayors and other government officials have very thoughtful and kind words they use to describe firefighters. In seemingly heart-felt speeches they refer to firefighters as heroes. They seem quite sincere in their view of our profession. We are humbled and flattered by these generous words.

We’re not heroes. 

We’re not villains. 

These terms make every one of us uncomfortable.

We are heroes no more than the police officer that puts on their shield every day and goes about their duties – standing between the bad guys and the average law-abiding citizen. We, like peace officers, are guardians of the community. Our greatest act of bravery took place when we accepted the honor and responsibility of protecting the citizens of each and every community we serve.

We are professionals.

The current leadership in the highest levels of local and federal government doesn’t make any public employees feel of much value. Customer service works both ways.

Think of it like this: More expensive paint covers better than cheap paint. Expensive cars have a better and quieter rides than entry-level cars. Good carpentry costs money. In communities where a premium is not placed on emergency services the rate of survival for cardiac events is lower and fire loss is greater. Crime rates increase when you take police officers off the street. 

It’s pretty simple to understand.

Longer response times and reduced response capabilities can be directly attributed to government officials that truly do not understand the mission of the fire service. They possess only anecdotal knowledge of how we deliver quality service to the citizens that the city has an obligation to protect by providing a robust emergency service.

The cuts have not all come to fruition but they are forecast.

Victory is achieved through overwhelming the enemy with a disproportionate amount of force. That enemy may be a fire or an emergency medical call. This is why we arrive at the emergency scene with the numbers that we do. If those numbers are not available the problem compounds so long as the clock ticks.

It’s about math.

Fire doubles in size for every minute that it is unrestrained, more brain cells and heart muscle die for every minute either goes without oxygen. This means that on certain occasions  there might be more casualties than we as a service provider or you, the customer are willing accept. They might be civilian or they might be firefighters. Nothing is worse than knowing we could have made a difference but we couldn’t get there in time due to a lack of resources.

It’s not about scare tactics as some of the more vocal opponents of the fire service would have you believe.

It’s about math.

Our job is to be ready. If the citizens of the community choose to have fewer resources available to respond to emergencies then our job is to do the best with what we are given. When there is an emergency we are the ones who show up say, “Stand behind us. We are here to make the bad stuff go away. We are here to make you safe.”

This we will continue to do without question, it is our oath.

To accomplish our goals it might take longer and there might be a real consequence on the unfortunate occasion that due to reorganization – cuts – we cannot get to those who call us for help in a timely manner. Most people will not be touched or affected by scaled back emergency services. They might hear about a child drowning, a person choking, or a house burning down and chalk it up to rotten luck.

“Too bad for themI’m glad it wasn’t me.”

We as rescue professionals know the difference a minute or two can make. We have been there often enough to know the sick feeling of arriving precious minutes too late. Anyone who tells you that seconds don’t count or that 5 people on a medical call is too many isn’t telling the truth.

Visit your neighborhood firehouse and ask a firefighter why 5 of them show up on a medical call to support a person whose heart isn’t beating. You might find that 5 aren’t enough. If we’re not out of the station on an emergency call, training ourselves to answer the next call, or performing life safety inspections we are more than happy to talk to you honestly about all of the services we provide.

We’d rather talk service than money.

How many guardians do you want to show up at the door when you call?

Ultimately, the decision is yours. True, government officials are appointed to make decisions on your behalf. Are these decisions always based on solid information and a concrete understanding of what the scaling back of vital services means to your standard of care?
Paul Combs
Disingenuous is word that comes to mind.

We hope and pray that you never need us but rest secure with the knowledge that we will never let you down willingly. If we fall short in delivering service it will be because we were not afforded the resources to accomplish our number one priority – keeping you as safe tomorrow as you are today.

It will not be from a lack of effort.

Slower delivery of service will be due to an algebraic formula where the political solution to the equation is pulling resources out of an already taxed system, requiring personnel and equipment to travel greater distances, thus increasing response times and reducing levels of service.

Level of effort and level of service are very different things. We will always be ready. Hopefully, we will always be there.

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