Harold S. Geneen

The facts of fire have been driven home twice in two years here in Kansas and now it is California that is facing realities. Montana and Idaho have been facing all this for the last two months, but the national media is so infatuated with politics that real news seems to be totally forgotten.

The word ‘Urban Interface’ may not be known to the general public but it is the reality of the fire service and is discussed and planned for, and fought on an almost daily basis across the country.

I have written many times on the state of the fire service in the past and also my outrage on the fact that the Federal Government has been dragging their heels on the deployment of the 747 Super Tanker. This while all the while saying that they are not taking anything off the table to help bring fires under control. They lie!

Without going through the saga of Evergreen Airlines, the assets of the company is now a Colorado based company named Global SuperTanker Services LLC. The innovative new technology that the three Evergreen Super Tankers has been modified and installed in a 747-400 Boeing aircraft and is now operational.

And once again the Federal Government through the US Forrest Service held up approval and contracting for using the Tanker. Now it has been approved for use in California and is finally being deployed there. There is also one county in Colorado that has contracted for its use. So the area between Denver and Colorado Springs will now be able to use the air tanker.

To recap the 747-400 is designated 944 and drops 19,200 gallons of retardant or water. this is 17 times what the standard S-2 fire tanker that the Cal Fire and others use. The great part of the operations is that the plane can be refilled in 30 minutes and be on most fires in one hour from forward basing. We will see how it works, all the naysayers that claim that the 747 cannot operate under fire conditions have been all blown out of the water.

Now to my point. Most politicians and citizens want professional law-enforcement and want it to be well equipped. And it should be. But the facts of the fire service seem to fall into a category that many just want to get by. Facts are that 80% of the fire service is volunteer. This group of dedicated people is getting older. The fact that tax bases are under extreme stress and the costs of equipment are so high that many entities want to be cutting spending as much as possible. And the target seems to be the fire department.

‘You get what you pay for’. The realities are that when you cut the fire protection insurance premiums goes up to make the difference up. Those districts who are able to improve the rating of the department, and the district, save the taxpayer as much or more on the premiums they pay over the tax.

We are in a crisis and there is not much on the political level that is being done. When you take all the semantics and morality away from the argument a commissioner, mayor, or other leader should understand that it is saving taxpayers and tax base. I guess that is what you have to do to get through to the ones holding the purse strings.

Also the leadership in the fire service and industry has to meet part way and break the trap of ineffective leadership and innovation. The motto of the fire service has been ‘300 years of service unmarred by progress.’

As this is being written over 2500 homes and structures have been destroyed in California in one fire. One 7000 acre ranch in Montana was 100% burned over because of the government not containing a fire in a protected area. They allowed it to blow up and burn over private lands as well as state and federal lands.

In the Starbuck Fire in Kansas and Oklahoma Clark Counties alone were burned over in just over one hour. The losses of this and the Anderson Creek Fires are well known.

After years of asking the legislature to join a multi state pact to cooperate on major fires Topeka finally did. The problem is that they signed with the northern pact and not the southern pact. So we can get help from North Dakota but not automatically from Oklahoma. Uhhhhh!

I guess nothing will get done until politicians are put on a hose line and eat the smoke, dirt, and suffer the heat on the front line. Or the realization that there needs to be a rethinking on the fire service and take into consideration that the numbers of available firefighters are going down and they are getting older. And in poorer health.

Not long ago a nearby fire department had the page go off for a fire and no one responded. The page went out for a 2nd and 3rd time. Finally a truck went out to the fire with one man on board.

Maybe the nearby city who actually keeps a full time driver in the station will advertise for ‘Fire apparatus engineer’ and not ‘janitor and fire truck driver’. Do you think that things can be improved?

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