The fire service has changed immensely in the last thirty years. One major factor was 9/11, but it just accelerated a process already underway in emergency services. That term, emergency services, is probably more representative of what the fire department has actually become–a do everything and go to agency for emergencies. Actual fires are now one of the smallest percentages of incidents that we respond to.
In many communities, emergency medical services (EMS) are now operated by the fire department; add to that hazardous materials, confined space rescue, swift water rescue, dive rescue, trench rescue, high angle rescue, urban search and rescue (USAR), potential response to terrorism incidents (such as anthrax, etc.), code enforcement, fire prevention, etc. If a new hazard requiring trained personnel emerges–the fire department will be expected to handle it. They’ve got all those big trucks and fancy equipment. They’ll probably know how to deal with it.
It’s to the point where I’m very glad to be at the tail end of my “career.” I’m one of the minority feeling we’ve gone “a Christ’s sake. The amount of training to become proficient in all this stuff–never mind maintain a level of proficiency long term–has become overwhelming, particularly for volunteer services. It reminds me of the old saying–jack of all trades, master of none. The problem is, if you don’t master this stuff, people can die and some of those people may be firefighters. Bottom line–this is no longer the job I signed up for.