|EXTERNAL and INTERNAL
FIRE SERVICE ATTACKS
"Smokey Mirrors, Congressional False
Alarms & the Brotherhood and Sisterhood"
by Chief Billy Goldfeder
Well, by now, who HASN'T read the article
entitled "Smoke and Mirrors-Stop calling firefighters heroes" by the winter
coat reviewer named Douglas Gantenbein?
BUT-although we'll chat about that specific
issue, there were two OTHER comments that were made recently as well that
ya also need to know about.
First-as far as the Smoke and Mirrors article,
<http://slate.msn.com/id/2090573/> the fact that Gantenbein even
had the balls to mention Steven Rucker's name in the same article shows
what a media whore he is. He attempts to get the reader to see his "fair
view on things regarding firefighters." As far as I was concerned, as a
reader, he was saying that since Steve was killed-that is tragic-but the
fact that until Steve was killed, all of his time as a firefighter was
"smoke and mirrors."
....and as a writer-he should know that
it is up to US to interpret what he writes. If he comes back out and says
"you people misinterpreted what I said" then he might as well run for political
office or become a City Manager---he would be fully qualified.
Offended by the "media whore" comment?
Well-look it up in "Websters" and you will see "a venal or unscrupulous
person." Sounds like him to me. What does "venal" mean? Venal describes
a person capable of being bought or obtained for money or other valuable
From what I can tell, he is one of those
folks who has had some limited success by hanging around the outdoors way
too long. His bio states that he, better known to many as "the Gear Guy,"
has been hiking, biking, skiing, and climbing in Washington State and the
West Coast for 25 years. His bio further describes that "during that time
he's endured leaking tents, backbreaking packs, balky stoves, and freeze-dried
food so bad that even his always-hungry beagles would likely turn their
nose up at it." DAMN-That poor son of a gun DOES have a tough life. NO
WONDER he slams firefighters! HE KNOWS what tough is. They say that his
experience, combined with his work as an equipment reviewer for Outside
Magazine and the Outside Buyer's Guides, now benefits Outside Online readers
who want the low-down on outdoor gear. THANK GOD! Because, without people
like Dougie sitting outdoors and in trees for 25 years eating crap and
testing jackets-I wouldn't know what the hell to purchase when shopping
at Walmart for my winter coat. Ol' nature lov'n Dougie provides a service
that America really needs-and it's about time HE be recognized. They also
shared that when he isn't sorting through the newest parkas, tents and
eating freeze dried goat ass, he's a freelance journalist who works for
publications ranging from The Economist to Popular Science to Audubon.
Sounds like one we can really count on to do whatever it takes...to make
And now Outdoor Dougie attempts to make
some money and gain some "Hey-look at me-look at me-HEY!!-notice me!!!"
attention on the backs of people like the late Steve Rucker...the injured
Barrett Smith, Sean Kreps and seriously burned Doug McDonald....all lazy,
multiple job holding, easy pensioning Novato firefighters in Dougie Do-Rights
Overall-we couldn't care less what Dougie
writes about firefighters in general-because any half witted moron could
figure out how wrong he is by simply watching TV last week...but the fact
that he first attempts to get the reader to see his "human" side by first
mentioning (and using) the late Firefighter Steve Rucker-who burned to
death while doing the job---clearly helps all of us understand that old'
Dougie must need some money and attention to pay for his next trip into
Maybe Dougie oughta take a ride into Southern
California and attend some community meetings and tell the folks whose
lives and homes were saved by firefighters, that firefighting isn't that
dangerous. As a matter of fact, Tree Hugg'n Doug oughta pay a visit up
to Novato and visit with Cathy Rucker and her and Steve's two children
and tell them how he feels about firefighters. I am sure he will get a
warm reception. I mean, if he REALLY feels that way-he shouldn't have any
trouble sharing that with all those attending the memorial services. He
could sit and enjoy some lively conversation with all the lazy assed bastard,
non-heroic firefighters who generally don't do squat.
AS MUCH as we were annoyed about Dougies
attempts at writing, it's just another example of someone from the outside
partially looking in-to draw attention to themselves for financial (or
in many cases, political) motivation. Of course, he states that "none of
this is meant to dispute that firefighters are valuable to the communities
in which they work"...oh, phew-OK, now we feel better....about as good
as we felt the last time we read about firefighter layoffs and budget cuts.
OK, so Dougie wrote what he did. Let's
move on to a group of folks that SHOULD be just a little more understanding
of what fire, rescue and emergency medical services are all about. That
would be elected officials. Oops! Wrong again.
FALSE ALARMS: Did you read about the Congresswoman
that has called upon EMS and FD's nationwide to "tighten their belts last
Where do we even start on THAT? I used
to tell a joke about a Fire Chief who went to their City Council to purchase
a new engine...when asked what he was going to do with the old engine,
he said "We'll use that for the false alarms"...it usually got a few laughs.
And then I read Sheilas comments.....MAYBE she meant AUTOMATIC ALARMS?
Maybe..we can only hope that her local FD will help her "get it" .....but
ya know what happens in the political world, someone will read that, come
up with some total misinterpretation of the original intent and the next
thing you know, my boss gets charged with sending too many pieces of apparatus
on what turned out to be a FALSE ALARM. And the idea of sending the cops
to EMS runs? Well-they may need them in her town since they don't have
EMT's or Paramedics-at least from what she says. They have ambulances and
ambulance drivers only. Must be pretty lonely for the patient in the back
when transporting.....and "self CPR" on a cardiac arrest?....that's really
tough to do on one's self.
WHY don't some elected officials get it?
Is it because they don't understand that we are essentially inusrance policies?
We cost money to assure a response when you need us. Is it that? Maybe.
But it's more likely because we haven't worked hard enough to educate them
overall at the local, State and Federal levels. And it's not just a brochure
or a pamphlet. It is the regular interaction and communication between
the FD and our locally elected folks, that over time, can make a big difference...plain
BROTHER HOOD AND SISTER HOOD.....
Of the items in this issue of WithTheCommand.Com,
this one annoyed us in a different manner. Below is an article sent to
us by some bosses at FDNY inwhich the New York Times takes the FDNY to
task on the cost of their ambulances and they criticize the FDNY's ambulance
specifications. From our standpoint, we have generally felt that bigger
is better-as far as experience in this business goes. Not always-but a
lot of the time the bigger and busier a FD may be-the more we can learn
from them. And with FDNY doing 1.4 million (+/-) ambulance responses each
year-and given the crappy roads in NYC and the fact that the mechanics
and the EMS personnel may actually have some good ideas (like wiring color)...FDNY
may actually know what they need for their services. We can understand
when other ambulance manufacturers whine and cry because they didn't get
FDNY's business....that's the nature of the beast....BUT.....
What we don't understand is this. Why-in
the middle of an article (below) where FDNY is again getting their chops
broken, does a Battalion Chief from Los Angeles have to add non-supportive
comments, adding further question to the issue?
We aren't going to even start to guess
why the L.A. Battalion Chief felt he had to comment, as opposed to maybe
just supporting FDNY or just not commenting at all. If the media insists
on facts-give them facts...and, as they say in L.A..."Just the facts."
Why add fuel to the fire? Perhaps that BC has some other interests?....maybe
that BC likes "his" brand of ambulances better?....maybe that BC is involved
in purchasing other items for L.A. and is worried that the media may look
at him next? Who knows? We sure don't. Were his comments "taken out of
context" ? Possibly but unlikely, as there haven't been any retractions.
BUT what we do know is that firefighters
get all pissed off at outsiders (like the tree hugger) who, without full
education and understanding, take shots at what we do, for their own personal
gratification. And we get annoyed at elected officials who have no clue
on issues they comment about, in order to get votes and support....again-that's
kind of the nature of the beast-we almost expect it.
However-when one of "our own" adds comments
when another firefighter or fire department is being looked at through
the disjointed and questionable media microscope on a issue such as ambulance
purchasing-and then "our own" adds question to the issue, we start to wonder
if the terms BROTHERHOOD and/or SISTERHOOD have become todays abused terms.
Maybe they have become like the term "HAVE A NICE DAY".....yeah-people
say that to me all the time, but do you really think they actually care
if I have a NICE DAY? It's just an empty term used to fill void spaces
of conversation that would be better off left alone. Sound familiar? We
hope not. But sometimes, when you least expect it-the worst support you
might get is from the person who you expect to back you up while crawling
down a hall.
A little less talk and a lot more supportive
action within all our own ranks (at all ranks) could do a lot to firm up
the true value of the "hood" terms....maybe we need to take better care
of each other so when the unjust breaking of our chops occur...we can greatly
increase our chances of success and the truth. Of course we aren't saying
we all shouldn't speak up loud and clear on issues of firefighter safety
and survival, that is very clear....but that's not the issue here.
Los Angeles buys them for $85,000 apiece.
Detroit pays $84,000.
Closer to home, a major New York hospital
system spends less than $80,000.
But the New York City Fire Department has
them all beat, spending more $133,000 each for custom-made ambulances -
all 480 of them. At $65 million, the department's new contract to replace
its front-line fleet over five years is the largest and most costly municipal
ambulance purchase in United States history, according to industry executives.
The five-year contract was approved in June and the new ambulances have
begun to roll in. At a time when budget cuts are closing firehouses, curbing
daily ambulance runs and delaying construction of new emergency medical
stations, the pricey ambulance purchases raise this question: What is New
York getting for its money that other big cities are not?
Some of the answers are found in a thick
set of specifications, drawn up by city fire and purchasing officials.
Manufacturers say it is the most detailed and restrictive list of specs
out there, dictating everything from the placement of the tailpipe to the
vehicle's warranty. Fire Department officials say it ensures that New York
gets a high-quality product. Critics, however, say some requirements needlessly
drive up costs and scare away competition, with bidding limited to those
manufacturers willing to take on the risk and cost of retooling assembly
lines to accommodate New York's desires for things like specialized interior
cabinet doors or reinforced step wells. Some of the requirements are there
at the insistence of the municipal labor unions.
Further limiting the bidding is the "aggravation
factor" of dealing with New York's procurement bureaucracy, which frequently
pays late. A result has been that one ambulance manufacturer, Horton Emergency
Vehicles of Ohio, has emerged the winning bidder time and again, fueling
talk that the city favors that company. That talk has the effect of further
tamping down competition.
"Everybody knows that New York buys Horton
ambulances," said Battalion Chief Don Frazeur, who oversees the vehicle
fleet for the Los Angeles Fire Department. "All the other companies drool
over that contract, but it's so proprietary they feel they don't have a
shot to get it."
Although more than a half-dozen manufacturers
can build the quantity of customized ambulances sought by New York, only
two, Horton and American LaFrance of South Carolina, submitted bids this
year. Horton's price per vehicle beat American LaFrance, whose bid was
about $150,000 each. A third company, Wheeled Coach Industries of Florida,
the world's largest ambulance manufacturer, took a close look at the specifications
and decided not to bid. In a letter to the city, Wheeled Coach's president,
Robert L. Collins, said some of New York's terms were "completely unreasonable
and unheard of in this industry."
"Overall," Mr. Collins wrote, "it is New
York City's taxpayers that will pay the premium. In a time of severe budget
constraints, why isn't New York seeking better value rather than greater
surety?" New York City officials reject suggestions that they are spending
too much or favor a specific manufacturer. They say they are seeking the
vehicles that can best withstand a brutal working environment, are user-friendly
for city employees and can be built quickly.
"You get what you pay for," said Assistant
Fire Commissioner James Basile, who oversees the vehicle fleet. "I can
comfortably say that we get 10 years out of these vehicles. There are no
other roads like there are in New York City, and the vehicles we buy have
to be able to withstand that." Commissioner Basile said that, besides being
sturdy, New York's ambulances are designed to make life easier for the
mechanics who work on them and the emergency medical technicians who ride
in them. He is proud of the demanding specifications, like two green indicator
lights on the outside of an ambulance that let you know when its battery
has been left on.
The lights were Commissioner Basile's idea.
"It's simple things like that, no one else
has," he said. "Who knows how much we save each year by not having batteries
going dead?" Determining why New York's ambulances cost more is difficult,
in part because the companies that bid to build them do not break out expenses
for individual items. (Several company executives estimated that the cost
of adding the green indicator lights, a relatively small item, could add
$50,000 to $70,000 to New York's total contract price.)
Comparing contracts also can be tricky.
New York's $133,000 contract price includes a two-way radio system. Los
Angeles' contract price of $85,000 per vehicle does not include radios,
which, when added, bring the total price to about $111,000 - still below
New York's. Detroit's $84,000 contract price includes a partial radio system.
San Francisco's $98,000 ambulances come with a complete system.
The North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health
System, which operates one of the largest hospital-based ambulance fleets
in the country and responds to emergencies in parts of New York City, pays
less than $80,000 for ambulances without radios. When radios and other
equipment are added, the cost tops $100,000, said Brian O'Neill, the health
system's vice president for emergency services.
Mr. O'Neill said the ambulances he buys
are built with a van chassis, as opposed to the more expensive pickup truck
chassis favored by the Fire Department, which says the cab's extended nose
better protects occupants in a crash.
Other fire departments argue that the van
design reduces the likelihood of collisions because its flattened nose
allows for greater field of vision and a tighter turning radius. That debate
is moot in New York City, however. The firefighters' union has made it
clear that it favors the truck design, which some company executives say
could add as much as $1 million to the city's total contract price. "When
I buy ambulances, I don't have to deal with the union," Mr. O'Neill said.
"If their union makes something a safety issue, then you can't fight it."
New York fire officials said that in addition
to promoting safety, their specifications had the practical benefit of
ensuring that every ambulance is built exactly the same way, making spare
parts interchangeable. But they insist they are not wedded to Horton, which
has been building ambulances for New York since at least the early 1980's.
"Over 20 years, we have evolved a spec that works for us," said Anthony
DeMaio, the assistant deputy director of fleet services. "Anyone has the
opportunity to build it for us - as long as it is to that spec."
When other companies tried to build ambulances
for New York City in recent years, they did not get far. In 1998, the city
postponed plans to buy 400 ambulances after accusations from potential
bidders that the specifications favored Horton. For example, one competitor
said the Fire Department's vehicle design required rounded corner posts
and Y-shaped braces made by Horton but not by other companies.
After the city revised its specifications
and put the contract out to bid again in 1999, another company, McCoy Miller
of Indiana, won with a low bid of $110,000 per vehicle. But the department
soon complained that McCoy Miller was struggling to meet its production
schedule, and that some vehicles were of poor quality. The company tried
to mitigate those concerns by offering a $10,000 discount on each vehicle,
but the city canceled the contract. To pick up the slack left by the cancellation,
the Fire Department awarded emergency no-bid contracts for 50 ambulances
each to Horton and Wheeled Coach. However, Wheeled Coach backed out after
the department found problems with a prototype ambulance it produced and
refused to relax what the company considered insignificant yet time-consuming
For instance, the department decided it
wanted colored wiring instead of black, and a single exhaust tailpipe instead
of two, Wheeled Coach said in a letter to the city. Specifications for
double doors on a rear storage compartment were changed to a single door,
and detailed requirements were added for the type of threaded fastener
to be used to mount the vehicle's warning lights.
"The specifications do not describe warning
light mounting," the company said in its letter, and "this adds additional
material and cost." A spokesman for Wheeled Coach declined to comment on
the company's dealings with New York City.
Horton dismissed the complaints as sour
grapes. David Lamon, Horton's vice president for sales and marketing, said
New York's specifications did not favor his company, and that any advantage
Horton may have comes from its long history of building ambulances for
the department. "We have more of an understanding of the demands of their
system, what their problems are, what their needs are," Mr. Lamon said.
Still, "they are a very difficult contract for us to do because it is so
Mr. DeMaio said Wheeled Coach was a chronic
complainer that "wants to build the vehicles its way, and not our way."
Other fire departments, including Los Angeles', say they have found Wheeled
Coach cooperative and willing to accommodate their specifications.
"Wheeled Coach is like buying a Chevrolet,"
said Chief Frazeur, the Los Angeles battalion leader. "There are some more
expensive cars out there, while others might not get you back and forth
in as much comfort. It's hard to contrast quality and value, but there's
a middle ground there somewhere."