Review: WaPo Goes To Fire Land

 

Welcome to the Park

The Washington Post, a.k.a WaPo, trekked to Fire Land, a.k.a. Prince George’s County, Maryland, to cover the aftermath of a 2012 fire where firefighters were injured. “Cold Air. Then Heat. Then Terror.” That’s the title of their tale, but it’s mostly hot air.  It’s a professionally embarrassing story about a  “fire department amusement park” where “firefighters” receive free admission and time travel, at least of the backward type, is possible.

Here’s the description of the PG “fire department”:

“… a massive apparatus, with 45 stations covering about 500 square miles populated by nearly 900,000 people. All but two of the 45 stations are owned by individual volunteer fire companies, which operate independently, purchase their own equipment and make their own personnel decisions but work in concert with the county department.”

Fire Department?

Fire Land

Whatever that agglomeration is, it is not a fire department; a recipe for mayhem, maybe.  In that sense, the 2012 fire near Bladensburg and the article about it, is hardly news.

More tidbits about firefighting, Fire Land style:

“Averaging about 135,000 fire and emergency medical calls annually, the department is among the 15 busiest in the United States, according to Firehouse Magazine’s National Run Survey. In the most recent survey, Prince George’s ranked ahead of San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta and Boston but behind the District and Baltimore.”

And:

“Some of the volunteer departments are partially staffed by career (meaning, paid) firefighters and paramedics, though not Bladensburg, which has been an all-volunteer station since 2004. Nearly half of its 68 fire- and EMS-certified volunteers are from out of state (Nebraska, Montana, New Jersey and North Carolina)…”

These three quotes,  when ironed out, equal:

The 15th busiest fire service in the nation, operating in a setting that is significantly urban, with a population of 900,000, does so, in part, with all-volunteer stations staffed by visitors.

Imagine a fire station in downtown Boston or San Francisco being staffed with out-of-town volunteers and with no paid staff.  Odd, to say the least.  In our area, DC Fire and EMS protects a population significantly less than PG County and requires more than twice the number of career personnel.   Fairfax County, with about the same demographics and which also operates with volunteer support, needs almost twice as many paid personnel as PG.  Neither DC nor Fairfax are over-staffed, they meet or are near National Fire Protection staffing standards.  What they have is planned, consistent staffing.

Rival Factions

Fire operations in PG suggest a 19th century culture.   Another quote from the WaPo paean:

“That hose has been a flash point of contention between the two volunteer companies, rival factions of the county’s firefighting brotherhood just two miles apart.”

B'hoys

B’hoys

“…rival factions of the county’s firefighting brotherhood just two miles apart.”  Ah, B’hoys, bring out the leather buckets– the fire bells can be heard clanging in the cold night air as the horses are harnessed and we are whisked back in time.

The history of the American fire service is  laced with stories of volunteers brawling on and off the fireground to the detriment of  citizens.  In New York and elsewhere, the demise of volunteers was due in no small part to this adolescent and rivalrous behavior.   Yet, in today’s PG, grudges and fighting are alive and well.  Not sure?  Just “google” it.  The stories start popping up.

Rivalry plays no role in a professional fire department where lives are at stake and safety is paramount.

(The longevity of red-shirted, leather-helmeted brawling volunteers in many cities was due to their out-sized political power, the exact cause of the bizarre situation in PG.  New York’s Tammany Hall is the best example.  PG’s elected leaders are busy storing their ill-gotten gains in the freezer or their cleavage, whichever is bigger, thus leaving the b’hoys to muck about.)

Anti-Volunteer?

The charge will be laid  early and often.  It relies on the notion that anyone doing something for nothing is automatically immune from criticism.  PG volunteers  have a perpetual free pass to one of the world’s largest amusement parks.  The attraction is so thrilling that they come from all over, literally, to ride the rides and stroll the fairway.  The WaPo story is proof of that.

Welcome to the Park

Welcome to the Park

Any story is made better with a dose of irony and this one has a fair share of it.  Many of these folks are paid/career firefighters in DC, Montgomery, Fairfax, etc., who would absolutely have a fit if they were forced to work under similar conditions.  They are not very smart either:  they work elsewhere on a 4-person engine or a 5-person ladder while their family is protected by…who knows?

Biggest Losers

1.  The citizens of and visitors to PG who may, or may not, be getting what they pay for, depending on one’s view

2.  The understaffed PG career firefighters and paramedics who come along behind the circus, shovels in hand, cleaning up the dung

3.  The gullible public reeled in by another inane, sophomoric novella written by a starry-eyed and clueless reporter

And Finally

To the community leaders whining about the lack of retail and commercial development: clean up your act, get serious about basic services and things may change for the better.

Link to the Washington Post Story:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/local/2013/10/12/cold-air-then-heat-then-terror/?hpid=z1

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