Friday, January 14, 2011

Staffing vs. Code

Just had a conversation regarding a news piece that's been circulating for the last couple of days.  The article focuses on a fire chief's request for additional staffing, in the wake of a large warehouse fire.  He cites "2-in/2-out" , insinuating that if they had more people, they would have been able to make an interior attack and, presumably, save the structure.
I am 100% in favor of effective staffing levels, but (especially if I were a taxpayer in this jurisdiction) here's a few questions I'd be asking...
#1 - Why was this building built without fire sprinklers?  I don't have the answer to that.  It may be that the code in place at the time did not require sprinklers, resulting in the building "burning down according to code", as Chief Brunacini would put it.  Regardless of why, the building didn't have them, it caught fire, burned to the ground, and now the fire department wants more people as a result.  So, instead of the cost of fire protection falling on those that create the need (the people or company who built and/or occupied the building, who would be the same ones who profitted from its existence), the cost of increased fire protection will fall to those who simply live there, in the form of a tax increase.  This is on top of the lost tax revenues as a result of the building burning down (hard to collect property tax on something that is now a pile of ashes, much less sales tax from the business that operated there)... a double-whammy for the taxpayerI'm a huge fan of work smarter, not harder...
#2 - What, exactly, would have been the outcome of this fire, had there been more personnel on the scene?  Given a building's construction type, fire load, and amount of fire involvement upon arrival, having "2-out" doesn't make it any safer to enter a structure.  The "2-out" regulation, as well as the entire "rapid intervention" concept, can give firefighters a false sense of security, causing them to take unwarranted risks.  Yes, both are vital on any fireground operation, but they are not the fail-safe that they are sometimes made out to be. 
I understand this Chief's desire.  They probably do need some level of increase in personnel.  BUT, any request that is in the name of increased community fire protection MUST include considerations for code enhancements and fire prevention.

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