Bill Dedman


300 years of tradition unimpeded by progress. This is a tongue in cheek saying about the fire service. There has been some progress over the centuries but the underlying truth is that change comes long and hard in the fire service. Of course it is the point of view as to what you understand progress to mean.

My career was spent with a department that was a non traditional organization. So much so that it was at one time the second largest full time department of its type right behind Los Angeles County. I am sure that the type of department has been adopted in many more places since. but this is quite a heady position for a fire district from Kansas.

From the inception of  the department it did things different than most other departments in the country. We were running rescue squads long before other departments were. Even when the ambulance services came from mortuaries. Change was for a long time ahead of what the public expected. It was also difficult since politicians were the governing board and still are. The department has undergone many assaults on its organization with those who know nothing about what the department exists for is mistaken for a municipal department. And they keep thinking that by combining the two will save money. It won’t.

As a whole there is problems and circumstances that demand an organization fitted to what presents itself for hazard and functionality. Most departments are volunteer and this is for the most part the fact that small tax bases have a hard time justifying full time firefighters. Some would rather have their neighbors place burn rather than fund adequate service for their jurisdiction. One commissioner cut the budget of a local department so badly that there was no money to put fuel in the trucks. I am sure that when the fire is his house he expects the very best to show up.

I have written about this before but our firefighters are getting older and in poorer health. It is not unusual for a small department that have active members that are restricted from anything but driving because of heart issues. Youngsters graduate from high school wave and only come back for visits. Replacement firefighters are rare.

Locally I try not to express my views and opinions with the local department because anyone from the outside is not well received by telling someone how they should or should not be doing something. When ever I can visit and just tell my stories and if they take them and apply I am very happy, but I am not pushy. We have great firefighters that do a great job under very hard circumstances.

At one time I did consultant work. It is not a very lucrative job where new ideas are hard to ask for and even harder to implement. Also a ‘consultant’ needs to have an address from places like New York, Chicago, and other places a long ways away. Like these people really know how to solve a problem in Kansas.

I do however, express my opinion for those who are in the position to cause undo expense and hardship for the local departments. Change is hard in both directions. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)  and Insurance Services organization do cause expense and almost intolerable requirements for the local jurisdictions. I do not know how to address these people and get an actual hearing.

The perfect storm of sub standard fire protection consists of NFPA, ISO, Governments (state, local, and federal). And taxpayers who just do not want to pay a fair tax. That is until the fire is on their doorstep. Throw in one more factor, Fire equipment manufacturers.

Requirements of the biggest, shiniest, and most expensive equipment drive the quality of equipment to proportions that simply cannot be attained by cash starved jurisdictions. The dirty secret is that you ultimately pay a set amount either by tax or insurance premium.

How can you do anything? Support your local fire department or district. Understand what the tax money is used for. Hold your elected officials to a standard that provides the best service that is possible for your area.

As far as myself I will continue to write about the subject. I can talk for hours about many facets of the fire service and the problems that they face. I even have a few solutions, but I will try not to bore you to death about it. But you still have to do your part.

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