After the widget plant burned down, the folks who lost their jobs wanted answers. So did the merchants dependant on the plant payroll, and the politicians hoping to keep the voting public prosperous.
“We didn’t have the big pumper to do the job,” answers the fire chief. “We didn’t have enough foam or water. We didn’t have enough firefighters either. We just didn’t have enough of anything.”
Welcome to the FDE – Fire Department of Excuses. The only thing preplanned by this fire chief is a bid for cheap sympathy when the worst happens.
The fire chief of Elwood, IL, is determined not to be one of these chiefs. (CLICK HERE)
Chief Bill Offerman of the Elwood Fire Protection District does not give excuses, nor does he accept them. Like the Collins (MS) Fire Department highlighted in the Spring 2012 issue of IFW, the firefighters in Elwood are responsible for a slice of small town America blessed with a proportionally enormous chunk of industry.
If EFPD falls down on the job, the impact reaches far beyond main street Elwood. ExxonMobil might lose a refinery. Wal-Mart might lose a regional distribution center. The Burlington Northern and Sante Fe might lose a gigantic rail facility and a lot of freight that belongs to its customers.
Residents do not want to hear “Que Sera, Sera” when an economic gem is suddenly subtracted from the tax base. “We Are the Champions” better be the background score when the video of the big fire is posted to YouTube. “No time for losers, ‘cause we are the champions … of the world.”
Early on, Offerman started hedging his bets. Elwood is a town with 2,200 in population, 19 full-time firefighters and, in September, takes delivery on a 3,000 gpm pumper. It joins a fleet inventory that includes a 110-foot tower ladder and a 2,000 gpm pumper, all equipped with five-inch hose.
“We’ve always considered ourselves an industrial fire department,” Offerman said.
EFPD is a completely professional department with the resources for both industrial and municipal fire protection. With the best in equipment and training available, EFPD is protecting the assets that many communities that size would kill for in the current economy.
The truth is that industrial facilities lost to fire are not being rebuilt. Ask the good people of Princeville, QC, who lost 180 jobs when their bacon production plant burned in May. In Winnipeg, ON, 65 jobs went south — and I do not mean the U.S. — when the local window and door factory burned in January.
In November 2011, Newcomerstown, OH, lost 90 jobs thanks to a fiber insulation plant fire. In February 2011, 60 jobs went up in smoke with a fertilizer plant in Hartsville, SC. And in November 2010, Bastrop, LA, said goodbye to 50 jobs when the roll plug plant combusted.
None of these fires rated as breaking news on CNN. But for those people personally affected, losing the local plant is a life-changing tragedy. Of course a multitude of social services exist to help them after the fact, but the one agency best situated to prevent this grief is a well-trained, well- equipped fire department.
Fire chiefs such as Offerman and John Pope in Collins do not accept the status quo. They set a model pace for their departments, evaluating local risks and searching out appropriate training. That training is persistent, constantly searching out new information and channeling it into appropriate specialized teams.
By realistically appraising the risks facing them and equipping to meet them, they have given their communities outstanding fire departments that are up for any challenge. By networking with area industries that have their own fire brigades, EFPD is able to provide fire protection equal to anything available in Chicago only an hour away.
I am so proud of fire departments such as EFPD that set a course for success instead of covering their tails with excuses.
In closing, please note this issue’s focus on vapor cloud releases and subsequent explosions. Read it thoughtfully and form your own options on how best to minimize property loss and personnel injury.