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CAFS and Cops – A Commentary

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Just Who Do You Think Our "Friends" Are?

Commentary by Patrick Mahoney

Tim Sendlebach is the editor-in-chief of Fire-Rescue magazine and a fire chief. It is a great magazine that offers a lot to the fire service and he is a commendable leader who has made the fire service a better place. Sadly, he recently published one of the most misguided editorials I have ever seen from a fire service leader. Chief Sendlebach wants us to listen to the International City/County Management Association because "in short, they're our bosses" (emphasis his).

The context here is a dustup over an ICMA-published magazine article from August of last year that advocated CAFS usage. Chief Sendlebach objects to the greater fire service's objection to the article. Specifically, the fire service was critical of the article because it was made by authors who never served as firefighters. Several arguments in the article are worth summarizing here: the fire service has failed to adopt the miracle of CAFS more widely because of tradition, the fear that doing so will allow staffing cuts, firefighters don't understand CAFS, and early models of what the authors apparently think were CAFS systems were complicated. A few representative quotes may also be useful:

"The adage "100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress" has been regularly quoted by progressive fire managers in many issues of the magazine Fire Chief."

"The role of the fire service is not to be an employment agency"

" the city managers were discussing the introduction of CAFS into the department, a firefighter from a neighboring jurisdiction stood up and rattled off a number of critiques about CAFS. Not one was true."

The two guys who wrote that article are not firefighters. One is a cop who became a city manager and the other is a cop who became a city manager and somehow got involved in some fire service standards-making efforts by virtue of his role as a public administrator. Suffice it to say that many cops and city managers across the country are often not the biggest fans of adequate fire services. These guys were also completely wrong about CAFS and the fire service.

IndianaFireTrucks / Allen

The article glowingly references the LA County CAFS tests and articles from Fire Chief magazine. Go check out the LA County CAFS tests if you're curious. (Spoiler: they're about exterior firefighting at flow rates unsafe for interior operations, like all CAFS tests, and, therefore, abandoning the interior position and anyone who happens to be in there.) The tests are not applicable to the interior firefighting that is responsible for the level of reactive performance the urban American fire service is known for. As for Fire Chief magazine, a publication run by someone who has never been a firefigther, it is free for you (you know about how you get what you pay for?) and thus apparently funded by advertising and sponsorship. I don't know how much ad revenue they take in from apparatus and pump manufacturers but I would bet it's a non-trivial sum.

They are also wrong about the fire service. The fire service changes and embraces innovation at a pace not entirely unheard of in the private sector. Just because some stupid movie in the 1990s highlighted a sign that one particular department used to poke fun at itself it has become axiomatic that this is a hundred years of tradition uninterrupted by progress. Yes, there are pathologically conservative departments; there are even regressive leaders. But in general, the fire service is open and adaptive. If you doubt it and you belong to a career department of more than a couple of stations then I'd ask you how much homeland security and NIMS training you've had in the last 11 years. Then, for you old-timers, I'd ask how much EMS training you got in the 1980s and 1990s. To suggest that CAFS is not in wider use because of tradition and a fear of losing jobs is grossly offensive. It also, unsurprisingly, sounds like boilerplate city manager babble that plays well at the chamber of commerce but has little or no bearing on reality.

Insofar as the ICMA is made up of "our bosses" I think we know enough about the bosses to judge that tree by its fruit. When city after city after city is decimating its fire services for the sake of crooked politics, nonessential services, payback to other public agencies, breaking labor's back, and just plain bad thinking then I believe we are allowed to disregard their recommendations. In short, what these guys have to say is valuable in an advisory sense only for the insight it offers into the mindset of those who are not our friends.

Thank you,
Patrick S. Mahoney

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