Sometimes it is necessary to re-state the obvious.

I spent time in the Army, a very hierarchical and bureaucratic institution. There were many times when we were ordered to put the proverbial round peg in the square hole. Sometimes we made miracles happen. Often times we drug our heels until the idiot officer who ordered us to do this got out in the field and actually saw the impossibility of what had been directed.

I've worked with a number of cities and their fire officials and it has a lot of the same feel, except the shoe is on the other foot. I'm the idiot officer -- or the public officials I'm advising are -- and the fire fighters are the ones wishing we would get a clue. They are trying to drive their large rigs to an incident and I'm suggesting we narrow lanes and bring back on-street parking. It's given me new respect for the leadership dynamic.

Earlier this year, Lloyd Alter wrote a really good piece about the tail wagging the dog when it comes to fire departments mandating urban design standards. From his piece:

In North America, fire departments drive new urban design with their criteria for curb radii, lengths and widths of streets, giant bulbs at dead ends to turn around because they are incapable of driving in reverse. So what we get is urban design by road engineers and firemen instead of planners and architects. No wonder our cities look like they do.

Of course, the solution here is to change out the round peg for a square one, one that actually fits the hole we're trying to put it in. In short, our urban fire departments need urban equipment. That's a concept Alter touched on in referencing Beauford County, South Carolina, and their approach to providing better service at a lower cost.

Switching to the two All Purpose Vehicles is especially important locally because 70 percent of our calls are related to medical issues, and these new vehicles are much more mobile and efficient on the road to get the job done. We have a more effective department with better apparatus, and we saved $765,000.

Of course, this all brings us back to another obvious point we've made here before, but bears repeating.

We can do so much more with so much less. Tell a fire fighter you know that their ability to do their job -- and the public's ability to pay their pension -- is going to be drastically improved by making our cities into places people want to live in instead of drive through.


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