A comment yesterday asked if I could elaborate on Lincoln Fire & Rescue's use of an "alternate response vehicle": a smaller, lighter vehicle like a pickup equipped with basic tools and medical equipment. This topic was in the news yesterday. After a couple of years as Public Safety Director, I now feel that I can do so.
The trend towards deploying these kinds of vehicles is not unique to Lincoln. It is going on nationwide, as more and more fire departments are beginning to respond to the changing nature of the work and the imperative of adapting to the new reality in municipal services, which simply put is this: the account is not unlimited, and no one is running for office on a platform of "I will raise your taxes, so government can continue to do what it knows is in your best interest."
About 76% of all the incidents that Lincoln Fire & Rescue rolls on are medical emergencies. Not only do they not require a huge and expensive fire truck or fire engine burning diesel fuel at 4 MPG, in some ways driving one of these large vehicles is an impediment to an urgent response, rather than an advantage. Sending a truck or engine to a "man down, nature unknown" call (something that happens hundreds of times annually), or to a broken tibia at a softball complex, is akin to sending a SWAT team to a noise disturbance call, based on the theory that it could be a gang war, rather than a loud party. I am sold on the need for a fairly sizable contingent of firefighters and paramedics for medical emergencies, but the type of vehicle they arrive in is for the most part irrelevant to the outcome.
Firefighters have an exceptional ability to think about, plan for, and train for every possible contingency. It is both a worthwhile skill, and an Achilles heel at the same time (isn't that true of most talents?) But in reality, the chance of a fire company catching a call that requires the big rig while on the way back from the senior center or ball field is quite remote. With the exception of rescue calls, almost all medical emergencies can be dealt with sans the engine or truck. For the rare contingency where more or different resources are needed, every firefighter and every rig is equipped with a radio, and there are a few dozen colleagues ready to spring into action at an instant's notice.
The checkbook isn't unlimited, and the ARV is a reasonable response to reality. Early on in my new role as PSD, I overheard a firefighter make a remark that I have now heard repeatedly, both at LF&R and at other agencies: "Firefighting: 200 years of tradition, unimpeded by progress." While not entirely true, I must admit that firefighting is more change-averse than most professions, and it cannot continue on a trajectory like this for long.
Adapt or wither. The choice is clear.