Upper Arlington News

Guest column

Look again: This isn't your grandpa's fire department

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We call ourselves the Upper Arlington Fire Division.

Some of our brother and sister organizations have changed their monikers from "fire department" to "fire-rescue," "fire and EMS service" and the like.

These efforts were made to more accurately describe the types of service provided by today's fire department.

In truth, if we were to describe everything we do, it would take a custom vehicle wrap to fit in all the words.

The National Fire Protection Association reported that U.S. fire departments responded to 32 million calls in 2012. Four percent of these were for actual fires, 67 percent were EMS runs and the rest were classified as "miscellaneous calls."

"Miscellaneous calls" include hazardous materials, which is everything from leaking propane grills, to oil and gas spills at auto accidents, to train derailments of cars containing toxic chemicals.

Miscellaneous calls also include technical rescue, which is extricating people from those aforementioned vehicle crashes, freeing people who are stuck in elevators, digging victims out from under building collapses and going in after those who have fallen into swift or deep water.

Miscellaneous calls include responses to false alarms, helping people back to bed, assisting residents who are locked out of their houses, freeing children who are locked in cars, establishing safety zones when electrical lines are down and providing standby emergency services at special events.

Fire departments also provide administrative functions that benefit both the public and the fire department internal organization.

"Administrative functions" include fire inspections, investigating fire causes, preplanning for emergency responses and public education.

Administrative functions also include training the public in CPR and training fire department personnel to maintain their skills and to meet state- and federally mandated continuing education requirements.

Administrative functions include conducting fire station tours, providing public speakers for service groups, educating schoolchildren about fire and life safety, making appearances at school festivals and public events, doing media interviews, serving on committees and boards, turning on fire hydrants for car washes and flushing those fire hydrants.

Administrative functions include managing annual budgets and payroll, attending council meetings, coordinating maintenance for the emergency vehicles and fire stations, inspecting and issuing personal protective equipment, auditing run reports and maintaining inventories.

Firefighters do all this and more, and they do so around the clock -- because fire departments are never "closed for the day."

The public often finds it hard to believe the nature of some of our calls for service. And it's true that we respond to some pretty odd situations.

But those of us who have read a mainstay of our profession know why.

In Report From Engine Co. 82 by Dennis Smith, the author described life in New York City during the late '60s and early '70s, before the advent of the 911 system. He said you might not get a dial tone when you picked up the phone. You might get stuck on the subway.

The wall socket in your apartment might or might not contain electricity.

"The only real sure thing in this town is that the firemen come when you pull the handle on that red box."

Dan Kochensparger is the Public Information Officer for the Upper Arlington Fire Division.

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