Americans that have not traveled outside of the country widely believe that the American development pattern is "normal." By that I simply mean that they believe it not that different than other parts of the world, just more advanced and bigger. If the rest of the world continues to develop and "catch up" to us, they will eventually have suburbs and strip malls and all the trappings of American life.

The idea that the American way of life is a huge, untested experiment -- not the government, but in the actual way we have built and constructed our places --  something that has never been done before, is not a concept we ponder often. European cities, for example, were initially built in a different time, but most have made a conscious decision to respond to the automobile with a much different pattern of development. We scoff at their tiny cars. At least until, like yesterday, oil jumps 12%. The American development pattern is not time-tested, and we are now starting to see the enormous financial problems and vulnerabilities it creates.

On Monday we set the table, trying to start a deeper discussion of an issue that has been off-limits for many. Spending for public safety is being squeezed by the long-term legacy costs of an unproductive development pattern. Budget tightening has forced local governments to cut fire departments, a tragic irony when it is the wide streets they demanded that has been a major catalyst of neighborhood decay.

Yesterday we looked at the evolution of fire fighting equipment, from early, hand-propelled pumping stations to the modern fire truck. As our streets have widened to accommodate an auto-centric shift in development, our fire equipment has likewise grown. To make the finances of our neighborhoods work, both of these trends will need to reverse.

Today we want to share two videos with you. They are from a Discovery Channel special about a competition between U.S. and U.K. fire fighters. (Not sure about the's YouTube.) The competition pits fire fighting crews from the two countries against each other in five separate categories: maneuverability of the fire truck, the ability to make noise, the force of the water discharge generated by their pump/hose combination, the speed of their fire truck and their overall rescue ability.

I had to laugh throughout this video because it fit every sad stereotype you could imagine about our country. While the U.S. fire truck proves to be louder and faster (start the chant: U.S.A....U.S.A....), the U.K. truck is more maneuverable, sprays water better and their crew performed better in a simulation. In short, our stuff proved big and loud while theirs actually fought fires better. (No shots of our guys wearing this hat, however.)

My favorite line is from the first video at the 2:33 mark:

The KME (U.S. truck) is 2 meters longer and almost a meter wider than the Volvo (U.K. truck). Fine for wide, American streets, but difficult navigating around a tight course like this.

I realize this is one show and not representative of the entire capabilities of our respective fire fighting approach. However, what it does point out clearly is that there are other ways to fight fires besides the American way and those ways seem to work okay. At least I have not heard of the mass immolation of any neighborhoods in the U.K., where their houses are generally closer together than ours and thus, you'd think, more prone to catastrophe.

Could the American psyche cope with fire trucks that looked like this?


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