There are those who say that people never change. And if you are talking strictly about personalities, that might be true, but I don’t think so. Everyone changes with time. Environments that we work in change so we change or alter our behaviors to match the changing environment. Most of us get married at some point and then have children. That will certainly change a person’s outlook on life and alter their behavior patterns. If you get married and never have children, you still change little things you do so that both of you remain happy. Don’t worry, your partner is making changes too. Time always marches on. Things you could do easily when you were in the 20 – 50 year old age group you may find some difficulty doing when you reach 60. But you can’t stop time.
So how has the fire service changed over the years? I can only speak about the department I worked for going back to the mid 70’s. Here are just a few changes our department has gone through and I am sure many other departments share the same changes.
When I came on the job personnel were just getting used to SCBA units. I was told before SCBA standards came along our personnel were issued masks and breathing canisters that most firefighters attached to their coats but did not use. Today of course, we wouldn’t think of going into a hazardous atmosphere without using SCBA and masks appropriately. At least I hope we are all doing that.
Paramedics. Our first paramedics finished school in the early 70’s and we had a total of 5 ALS vehicles when I joined the department. Remember Johnny and Roy? (Emergency!) We did just about everything they did with the same equipment they used. We answered about 8600 calls a year, EMS calls included. Our department today answers over 45,000 calls annually, has 12 ALS units and several ALS engines all responding to EMS calls. Obviously our biggest and most noticable change.
Our water rescue service included three “John Boats” strategically placed around the city with two sets of masks and fins on each. Have you looked at Pinellas County on a map? We are surrounded by water. Today our Dive/Rescue team has a great rescue/response boat with a water cannon and the latest electronic equipment. Certified divers are on duty every day.
Haz-Mat team? Of course. We have grown from a donated, used bread truck converted to a Haz-Mat equipment carrier with a handful of firefighters to staff it to a semi-trailer full of the latest equipment and with a built in command post section. Haz-Mat team members staff this vehicle every day.
Technical rescue has continued to grow from a refurbished used vehicle that had to be towed in some cases to the scene to a newer version of a tech rescue vehicle. Our team is now part of Task Force – 3, Tampa Bay Regional Urban Search and Rescue Team and has been deployed several time in and out of the state of Florida.
What about the little changes? Have they changed the department and the way they do business? I say yes to that. When I joined we were using cotton jacketed-rubber lined hose. That meant if the hose got wet, it went up in the hose tower to dry and we reloaded a fresh, dry load on the truck. Two or more fires in one day? Change the hose every time. Not so today. Plastic hose has changed all of that.
Inspections – We did company commercial inspections originally, then this went away for a while but they are back now. We call that going in circles. A lot of that in the fire service. Hydrant inspections? Nothing has changed there. Still doing them.
Smoking in the fire service. When I came on I was one of two people at the station that didn’t smoke. Today I don’t believe anyone is left on the job that smokes. It began in the 80’s when the department would no longer hire you if you smoked, then that moved on to no tobacco use. Healthier department? If nothing else our lungs are better off for it.
If you have more than a few years on the job then you have seen changes too. If you are new on the job, start a journal of things you do on a daily basis. Look at it in ten years. I think you would be surprised at the changes that go on.
Start today because time won’t stop and wait for you – it will always march on and we all will get older – and hopefully wiser.
And the lyric by David Bowie at the beginning of the article? I changed that a little to. It should read “- Time may change me, But I can’t trace time” (David Bowie)
Remember to stay safe – Everyone Goes Home.
William Jolley has 37 years of experience in the fire service with 20 of those years in a management position. William was the Fire Chief of Haines City, Florida, a city of Approximately 20,000. Prior to that William was the Assistant Chief of Saint Petersburg, Florida, where he worked for 35 years.