From the January 12,2011 FIREGEEZER
By Captain Patrick Mahoney (Company Officer for a career department in Texas.)
In this month’s Firehouse magazine there is a short interview with Baltimore City’s Chief James S. Clack. Baltimore’s is one of many fire departments on the frontlines of the budget meltdown across the country. The interview touches on a number of important subjects with relevance to many of us. But what caught my eye and made me cock my head a little was his answer to the magazine’s question about public education. Chief Clack is rather proud of their “home-visit program” in which they knock on doors and ask to come inside to educate the citizenry. “The key is getting through that front door,” he says. Once through, they might install smoke detectors or educate the occupants on matters of “total-risk-reduction,” to include the proper way to put your baby to bed. This, Chief Clack tells us, is “the future of the fire service.”
The United States Census Bureau tells us that Baltimore’s population declined by 32% from 1960 to 2009. Chief Clack says various estimates place the number of vacant buildings in the city as high as 40,000. Over the same time the fire department went from 88 companies to 54, per Chief Clack. This is a reduction of about 39% overall. Further stretching the numbers are rolling brownouts ranging in number from six per day last summer to three per day now. Baltimore recently had to call mutual aide from Washington’s DCFEMS to help with a pair of greater alarm fires. This is a city in decline that needs a top-rate fire department to protect its aging and deteriorating housing stock, commercial districts, and bypassed industrial centers. They have a big fire problem and they have it now, right now, tonight, tomorrow, and in the morning. Yet here we find the chief of the department in the pages of the nation’s foremost trade journal and he’s bragging about going into houses to teach people how to put their babies to bed and calling it the future of the fire service.
The fire service’s leaders love to tell us that we need to train, prepare, train, and prepare some more. Leaving aside questions of propriety and over the political wisdom of bringing government agents into homes to “educate” the populace in this era of Tea Parties, I wonder how much time is left to train and prepare after “total-risk-reduction.” We also might be wise to ask when, how, and, most of all, why, the fire department is in charge of reducing the totality of risk. If words mean something then this is surely the greatest and most untenable mission creep anyone has ever seen.
The urban ruins of the decaying metropolis and the bare bones fire department are on display in Baltimore for all the fire service and world to see. Baltimore and its fire department are sinking; teaching people to put babies to sleep will not be the future that Chief Clack and the city fathers will be remembered for.
#1 Clicky Clack does not know how we work in Bmore.
#2 He needs to go back to minneapolis and take care of there bridges.
#3 The home visits are a joke when we put up a smoke detector next to 3 empty shells because as soon as we leave the people take them out and use the battery for some thing elses.
#4 Unlike what Clack said when he shut down one of the busies trucks people do not save themselves.