Wednesday, August 08, 2012


Whenever I see a city ambulance make an emergency call, they are accompanied by a fire truck and crew even when there is no visible fire; the firefighters just hang out.  I had never bothered to think twice.  We do know that fire retardants and fire prevention are better than ever.  It stands to reason that there are fewer fires. But fewer firefighters is not an option for local leaders. Holman Jenkins takes this up in this morning's WSJ.
It takes twice as many firefighters to put out half as many fires as it did 30 years ago. Fewer fires because of better fire safety is one reason, but another is the dispatch of overqualified firefighters and their vehicles to things that aren't fires.

In Orange County, Calif., only 2% of responses involve fires. In Massachusetts the figure is 5%—only because Massachusetts doesn't count emergencies that don't result in injury or property damage.
The Orange County Grand Jury, an official watchdog agency, is the latest to plumb this phenomenon: "This transition from fire emergencies to medical emergencies has not generated major changes in the operation model. . . . Each emergency call generally results in both fire trucks and ambulances being dispatched to the site of the emergency regardless of the type of emergency."

Many towns and cities try to get by with two or three firefighters per truck, which makes sense when a truck is responding to a fender bender or bicyclist who fell down. The firefighter-dominated National Fire Protection Association insists on five firefighters per truck—which makes sense when a truck is responding to a fire.

What would really make sense, of course, is properly manned fire trucks responding only to fires, leaving other emergencies to one- or two-person police or ambulance crews. But firefighter unions are among the most politically potent in the country.
I have often complained that LA roads are in a state of disrepair worthy of a third world backwater.  I was in China last year and the city roads I was on were all much better.  Our city, county and state leaders are chained to their union supporters.  Wage and pension commitments are the natural result.  (Here is where I get to say "unsustainable.")  

Daniel DiSalvo documents politicized commitments to public sector unions in this latest book.  I have not yet read the book but listened to an author interview this morning.  I plan to add the book to my "must read" pile.