Joravsky ["Smoldering Resentment," January 17] does capture some of the concerns of Chicago firefighters, but I would like to add a few flames to the fire regarding these issues:
The city of Chicago would like to increase the number of promotions out of merit. This means firefighters would be promoted for "performance" in lieu of how they scored on the promotional exam. This translates to increased political promotions for the fire department and adds power to the city and fire department administration who will promote around a "fair" exam.
The United States has one of the highest fire death rates of any industrialized nation. Annually 4,400 Americans die in fires and another 25,000 are injured. Fire kills more Americans than all natural disasters combined. Eighty percent of all fire deaths occur in residences. In addition, approximately 100 firefighters die annually in the line of duty, which remains unchanged over the last two decades. Yes, fires are down, but when they occur the threat to all remains great.
The city of Chicago would like to reduce staffing on apparatus. It is not only an issue of firefighter safety going to a fire with four personnel instead of five on a piece of apparatus, but it brings into question how effectively firefighters will be able to perform rescues of civilians while putting out the fire simultaneously. Reducing fire loss in the city of Chicago is directly related to appropriate staffing on fire department apparatus.
On other issues of firefighter safety:
Commissioner Joyce and Chief Steve Bybee should be commended along with the city's fleet management on the recently purchased new pieces of fire apparatus. It is a welcome change, and Commissioner Joyce inherited a huge problem related to years of neglect. On the other hand, we have been told over the last three years that "bunker gear" (protective coat and pants) has already been budgeted for. In the meantime, firefighters continue to get severely burned on their legs, groin, and buttocks year after year. This type of protective clothing has been an industry standard for over ten years, and the city of Chicago is the last of any major city in this country to take this important step in firefighter safety. They began testing bunkers in the early 90s. Purchasing this equipment remains stalled in the Chicago Fire Department's bureau of policy and internal management.
As for emergency medical services:
Molly Sullivan states that firefighters are "right around the corner--they don't have to come across the city." Well, Mrs. Sullivan should spend some time in a firehouse and on an ambulance. The reason firefighters respond from around the corner is because many times ambulances are coming from across the city because of so many requests for emergency medical care. Fire engines with paramedics will respond quickly and will do everything they can while they are waiting for the ambulance, but what the patient really needs many times is an emergency-room doctor or a trauma surgeon. Engines cannot transport patients, and when they are waiting on the scene, the rest of their fire protection district goes uncovered by the closest available fire apparatus and crew.
The city of Chicago has approximately 2.8 million residents (not counting daytime population), and the Chicago Fire Department responds to well over 500,000 requests for emergency assistance with 59 advanced life-support ambulances (three of which are assigned exclusively to O'Hare) and 12 basic life-support ambulances. The response system that Mrs. Sullivan describes relies heavily on the person who calls 911 for information. Information that can be often erroneous or incomplete. Therefore you have advanced life-support ambulances responding to basic life-support needs. The reverse is also true when basic life-support ambulances respond to a patient with advanced life-support needs. There is an increased risk: legal liability for the city and the paramedics who respond in this type of system. At what price--a few more paramedic salaries?