The county I work in has a population of 250,000 people. With current budget issues, there’s discussion of becoming a “public safety” department and consolidating police, fire and EMS to a “county public safety department.” The hose draggers run 80% of the EMS calls (lots of granny stackers) and 20% of the fire calls (including false fire alarms). What are your thoughts on police consolidation? Thanks!
–Public Safety Bound
Public Safety Bound,
Like any good cop, I like firefighters for what they are: big-red-truck-washing hose draggers with tons of down time. But if I’m stuck in a burning building, I don’t want you—or any other cop—coming to get me. I don’t want you fumbling with hoses or other gear, trying to read a gauge on some water pressure meter, or doing anything but stopping traffic so firefighters can earn their keep. It’s not that I don’t trust cops or think they’re brave—I just think we should stick to what we’re good at.
These consolidations can vary. Some are more problematic than others for cops, firefighters, EMS and the public we serve. Others less so, but they’re still a problem. One example involves the use of public safety officers, who are basically people “trained” in police, fire and EMS functions. I put that in quotes because I understand how ridiculous it is to expect either cops or firefighters to be truly good at doing both jobs. Let’s not kid ourselves—we have a hard enough time keeping our people up to speed with what they were supposed to have learned at the academy. Pile on top of that all the new statutory and case law, technology, tactics and everything else. I’m sure it’s similar for the firefighters.
Another type of consolidation involves reducing the number of firefighters and having cops take up some of the easy jobs, like laying out hoses, reading gauges and helping move stretchers. I’m sure we can all lay out a hose correctly in a training environment, but when some baby gets left in a crib at the back of a burning house and the fire is so hot that the grass is melting across the street and the life of that baby depends on all those hoses being perfectly laid out, I think I want someone who has done it about 10,000 times in all sorts of stressful situations. Just like I would want a seasoned, hungry cop to stumble upon an armed robbery and take the sort of action that only comes natural to someone who has pulled their gun 10,000 times.
Other types of consolidation involve merging the administrative tasks involved in running both agencies. If this is what your agency is doing, you might not be in too much trouble. They combine personnel, backgrounds, hiring and other admin stuff so that a city or county doesn’t have two groups of people doing the same thing for different agencies. You might staff admin with one cop and one hose-dragger. Maybe internal investigations gets a 3-to-1 ratio of cops to firefighters, because we all know cops cause most of the IA. This allows agencies to ditch a few bodies and save some money while still keeping their operations separate.
The last form of consolidation has the police and fire chiefs replaced by a public safety director who’s in charge of both agencies. This doesn’t accomplish much, but it should keep the operations apart and allow the municipality to stop paying two chiefs, and instead just pay one director. I haven’t worked for one, but my guess is that either a career cop or a career firefighter will be hired. I feel bad for whatever side the director didn’t come from because they’re going to get worked.
Bottom line: This is an issue of risk-management vs. finances. Once again, the politicians see a way they think will save a few bucks. They haven’t looked at the long-term costs and the potential for loss of life or liability that saving these few bucks will cost them. I know we all love to make fun of firefighters, but don’t kid yourself—they have plenty going on. And we all know how much we have going on.
Public safety officers will eventually turn into a nightmare for the public they serve and for the officers who get crushed in the wake of an incident gone bad. We all need a paycheck, and I get that, but I would speak with each person from the other agency and come to an agreement to stand aside during any critical incident where training and experience mean life or death.
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