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November 6, 2003
"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, <>  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 consideration.  Hmmm. 

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 make some money.

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 blind opinion.

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 the woods. 

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 week?" 

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" 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 and simple.


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 design requirements.

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 different."

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."