Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are We Better Off?

Not long ago, I had one of those “solve the world’s problems” conversations with a close friend of mine.  We do this from time to time and although we accomplish absolutely nothing, changing not a thing, we both feel better at the conclusion.  Part of this particular chat covered a topic not new to us and one we’ve “solved” before.  The operative question was “have the technological ‘improvements’ to fire apparatus actually resulted in being able to better extinguish fires?”   

Our short answer to this burning question was “no.”  There is no question that today’s apparatus with the enclosed cab is far safer and has gone some distance in reducing injuries and fatalities from the days of open jump seats and riding the back step (getting dressed on the back step wasn’t just crazy—it was stupid).  That, however, was not what we were talking about.  It was more fundamental concept; that of putting wet stuff on red stuff.   

My friend and I both started with engines without crosslays; back when all pre-connects came off the back (one thing from the old days that seems to slowly be regaining some favor).  The pump had two gauges.  If two lines of different lengths or sizes were in operation, the pump operator established his pressure (yes it was always a him back then—no editorial comment intended) and gated the other line down by experience and feel.  Not the most accurate method, but it worked well for generations.  What the pump panel didn’t look like was the cock pit of the space shuttle, which some of today’s bear a striking resemblance to.   

Individual gauges?  Love them.  But flow meters, electronic valves, etc. simply add more things to break.  I won’t even begin to talk about adding CAFS to the equation; a subject for another day.  Not needing a ladder to get up to the deck gun was arguably an advantage of old versus new; and reaching hose lines and ground ladders without having to climb another one. 
Pumps ran, lines and ladders were pulled, and fires went out in the old days.  Simple has some attractive benefits.  It breaks less often, is easier to maintain and, arguably, to teach.  I’m not advocating a return to the open cab ’68 of yesteryear, but ask yourself honestly if the fires are going out better, quicker, or easier with the increased complexity of modern engines and if you’re honest, the truth is obvious. 

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