The New Normal or Just a Break?

It’s been pretty quiet at work (Suppression, Camden Fire Dept. (NJ) the last couple of  months.  Sometimes you get a good week or two period with no ‘jobs’ (fires).  But it’s been two months for us on 2 Platoon without a real good job.  The last one we was during  the string of multi-alarm arson jobs that made national headlines.

This brings a theory I’ve had since a campaign 12 years ago focused on identifying, cleaning out, and sealing vacant properties. End result:  fires took a dramatic drop.  So right after the big ones we had this spring , there was a brief campaign to clean-out and seal vacants.

Now we are coming up on the ‘busy season’.  As the nights get chillier, the calls for oil burners and carbon monoxide are good for a couple runs a night.  Vacant buildings on fire from vagrants attempting to stay warm are good for another one or two.  And in Camden, last but certainly not least, we have arson jobs.

The number of fires traditionally have been good enough to justify a one day on, 3 days off work schedule (how sweet is that?!).  And that’s without EMS runs.  But now we’ll get to see if the last couple of months were just a lucky break.  If the quiet continues, was it due to the brief focus this year on clearing out and sealing vacants?

Another theory is that the intense period of multi-alarm fires, news coverage, and insertion of arson task forces planted a meme in people’s heads that it’s not an opportune time to commit arson.  Or maybe it’s a combination of both theories.  Or could it be something way bigger?

In the book, ‘The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny“, by Strauss and Howe; the authors tell us how the generations now in adulthood are less prone to violence and acts of passion then the Baby Boomers of the last four decades.  Except for the occasional blip in the stats, the statistical outlier, or maybe the brief expression of extreme social sentiment, the overall trend may be down for demand of public safety services.  Time will tell.  Man, these are crazy times (…or maybe not).

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Social mood, point of recognitions, demographic analysis, and decision impacts are some things we take a hard look at in the Hardcore Leadership for the Fire Service newsletter (set for Spring 2012 release). If you are busting your butt to come up with some magic to deal with this economic mess then YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS OUT ON THIS.  Hardcore Leadership is exactly what is says it is.  Straight to the point, no B.S.!!  These are times for solutions, moving fast, walking the talk.  One idea can save you millions.  One idea can save your job.  One idea done right will save lives.  Isn’t that why we’re here?  Now take charge and get to work!

The Battle is Won or Lost Before the First Shot

It’s time to get back into the Solutions Business. Maybe this time someone may listen. With the threat of my department being consolidated out of existence, ‘the fire is under my ass’ to step it up.  Recent events here in Camden, NJ would make one assume job security is in effect.  Think about it, how often does a hard hitter arrive second due on a 12-alarmer warehouse job in the city?  On a 97◦F day.  Followed by 2, 3, 8 alarm jobs in the same month?  And just when you’re feeling a little safe about your job, the governor cuts  all the state aid to  my city.  So no balanced budget. Again.  Welcome to the new times.  A lot like the old times except we are approaching End Game.   Featuring dwindling budgets, politicians publicly hate on union firefighters (and teachers too, it’s a New Jersey thing), and not to be left out, the firebugs have heard the call and are running around.  Must be those Super-moons that’s been in the news lately.  Or maybe something in the air because I’m getting my ass kicked.  Both engine companies on either side of me were closed so my firehouse is automatically doing more with less.  Add heat-waves and all day and night burning chemical plants and Super Fund jobs, and so far…..no solutions or even a decent plan proposal set forth by anybody with the power to do something.  Does this sound a little like your situation maybe.  Do you think that if maybe we (that includes you too!) don’t do something about it, it may be over soon?  Well, I like my job and I like the idea of retiring with a pension that is reasonably healthy.  Don’t want to be entry level on at any new employment going into my 50’s.  Got to give it all I got and leave nothing on the battlefield.  So let’s get ready for the opening salvo.

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly of the Times

RCA Victor "Nipper" Building

Former RCA Victor "Nipper" Bldg

Post-Industrial decline has it’s many faces.  Here are some pictures that represent 3 of the looks.  The “Nipper” building photo shows the tower of a former radio and phonograph manufacturing building that was “cleaned up” and converted into rental apartments.  It took a lot of public money to provide the incentives to entice a private developer to come in and invest.  Long story, short… you won’t be seeing any more of these projects any more in older urban areas.  The money has run dry and real estate projects are pretty much dead in the water now.  So the only thing left for these old industrial sites or “brownfields” is to hang around with no one paying taxes on them.  Now “the fires” have begun.  Seen this before.  Replay of the 70’s.

If you’ve seen it all before and think that it can’t get any worse, here we go… how about hydrants stripped for the brass. Bad enough engine companies are closed so there is a delay in water supply, add pulling up to wrap and connect a hydrant and SURPRISE!  Busted hydrant.  Delay in water supply.  Dial up the alarms to the box now since company closings have taken any nearby reserves (aka ‘the fat’) out of the picture.  When it’s all said and done, after the politicians and the PIOs have voiced their outrage, your job is to step up your 6 Ps (PRIOR PLANNING PREVENTS PISS-POOR PERFORMANCE).  In the end, we are the professionals here.   We have to make it work somehow.

The row of homes picture shows some of the 23 buildings that burned during a 12-alarm and simultaneous 2-alarm fire in June.  The fire started in an old industrial building during a 97◦F day.  In the end, bad hydrants, bad luck, closed companies, etc, and we have a lot of families displaced.  This building fire was followed by a couple more muli-alarm fires at former industrial buildings.  What’s lost in all this is that some of these buildings are in stages of Super Fund cleanup.  So while the firefighters are exposed to the unknown, our health plans are being degraded. And men are worried about being thrown off the job with no future health coverage.  These are tough conditions to run a public safety agency, let alone run it more efficient and obtain buy-in from the troops for any departmental structural reengineering. Alright Chief, make it work.  That’s why you get paid the big bucks.

Burned out row of homes

damaged hydrant

Damaged side threads, missing front threads

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