By Adam K. Thiel
For those of us who have been in the fire and emergency services for any length of time, some of the questions we often field from residents, elected officials, and other policymakers can seem strange. Some of my frequently asked questions include:
- “Why do the fire trucks have to use lights and sirens?”
- “Why did you send a fire engine when I called for an ambulance?”
- “We don’t have any fires here, right?”
- “Why did you send so many fire trucks when I called?”
- “Does it (fill in the blank) really cost that much?”
When you think back, however, to a time when you didn’t have “expert knowledge” in firefighting and emergency operations, these are perfectly reasonable questions. And we should be able to answer them in a perfectly reasonable and rational manner.
Regardless of a community’s size, type of fire departments, and other demographic characteristics, the fire departments will be a major area of capital investment and operating expenditures.
The costs of equipping and maintaining a fire department are almost unmatched in local government. If you want to see someone’s jaw drop, tell him a new fire engine (pumper) costs more than $100,000 — sometimes much more. There’s almost nothing else like it, and the service life of something that expensive, depending on usage and environmental factors, can be difficult to explain when replacement comes up.
Still, as many communities struggle to recover from the recession, we can probably expect that apparatus replacement cycles will be a regular topic of conversation during budget time.
After all, as the noted author Kurt Vonnegut once said, “I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire truck.”
About the author
With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1’s editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel’s operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.