Letters to Editor
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 2
I recently read Les Robbins article in the Beachcomber regarding changes proposed for Long Beach Fire Department. I retired from LBFD three years ago just before the changes started taking place. The article summed up the problems with the proposed changes quite well.
I would like to further elaborate on some of the issues. I have had the fortune of working with and observing a large number of fire departments around the country and can honestly say that I saw no fire departments that provided a better service to their community than long Beach Fire, especially in the area of Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The proposed changes for the provision of EMS to citizens of Long Beach appears to be a major regression of service. The impact to the community will be negative and may be significant.
I would also like to speak to the issues regarding possible staffing changes to Long Beach Fire Department apparatus (engine and truck companies). During my 35 years in the fire service I worked on engine companies that were staffed with anywhere from two to six personnel. Six personnel staffing is obviously a fiscal impossibility for most in today’s world. Two personnel staffing on an engine company was ridiculous for too many obvious reasons. My experience was that the greatest change in efficiency and safety of operations occurred between three and four person staffing of the apparatus.
I often compare fire apparatus staffing to a sports team. If you reduce the team’s size and they still play the same opponent, they will win fewer games. Each person on the apparatus is highly trained for the assigned position. The captain on the apparatus is responsible for everything that occurs with the crew of that apparatus, especially their safety and for giving appropriate tasks to the crew members during any type of emergency. The engineer is responsible for driving and delivering the crew safely to an emergency, pumping or placing the aerial ladder and all things logistical related to the crews needs during the emergency. That leaves the two firefighters who have the most dangerous job in the fire department and are usually the first to place themselves in harm’s way.
Reducing staffing on the fire apparatus usually involves removing a firefighter since there are multiple firefighters and you can’t remove the supervisor or the person responsible for driving, pumping water and handling logistics. Removing a firefighter not only reduces crew strength by 25 percent but also reduces the force that is doing the actual firefighting or rescue work by 50 percent. This often forces the captain to step in and assist the one firefighter. This takes the captain away from his job of supervising, tactically assigning his crew and more importantly monitoring their safety.
There is also the legal mandate of the “2 in, 2 out rule” that significantly impacts what the first engine company can do at the scene of an emergency if they only have a three person crew. A three person fire crew, in my opinion, acts more as a façade, giving the uninformed public a sense that they are receiving a high level of service when they are actually receiving much less.
Although the subject of fire crew staffing can be examined in greater detail I will stop here. There is a significant amount of literature that supports these observations. What is important is for the public to informed and not be led to believe that they are getting the same service with these changes. They will get much less than what they received in the past.
LBFD Battalion Chief (Ret.)