A Firehouse in Need, Poughkeepsie, New York
Nestled in the Hudson Valley, right between Albany and New York City, is the small town of Poughkeepsie, New York. At 5.1 sq mi, the city holds a popular of 75 thousand. Looked at as an escape from the city life by the likes of the Vanderbilts and other high profile New York families in the 1900s, Poughkeepsie boasts a modest yet charming town center that has attracted students, professionals, and families for generations. However, one area of the city has not kept up with the demands of a small, yet bustling community.
The Poughkeepsie Fire Department was built in the 1940s, and their one firehouse has served the fire district since. But as other government buildings were updated, restaurants and universities opened, and the population expanded, the firehouse stayed exactly the same. In fact, in almost 80 years, it hasn’t been updated at all, except for two small changes in the ‘80s that didn’t remain adequate for long.
The most obvious concern is the sheer lack of space in the firehouse. The tight spaces on the apparatus floor leave fighters scrambling over each other when they receive a call, slowing down response time to an emergency. Sleeping quarters are only 400 sq ft, not nearly large enough to house the number of firefighters needed to respond to overnight emergencies. And fighters are forced to walk through the kitchen to get to showers to rinse off harmful smoke and chemicals used to extinguish fires, posing a potential for contamination. With only one shower, the department is prohibited from hiring women firefighters.
Those are just the building concerns. Lack of proper equipment and updates to essential technology further slow response times, and can even pose a threat to firefighters and the people they serve. The tight spaces in the garage not only potentially pose a substantial hindrance on response times, but the station’s Nederman Exhaust system, a staple on most emergency vehicles could be posing an even greater health risk to firefighters on duty. Constituents should be concerned whether the tight placement allows for proper and consistent placement before starting the rigs. A method for the safe and effective extraction of fumes produced by Diesel gas, the system is typically attached before responding to an emergency call. With a system that isn’t working efficiently, or an inability to effectively install the system prior to turning an engine on, any person within proximity to the truck inhales the toxic exhaust, and carries it on their clothes and into the cab. Both Emergency Medical Responders, and civilians are all at risk of inhaling carcinogens from the gas, and transferring it to others…
The exhaust system is just one of the areas of concern that firefighters deal with every day. They have to ensure that decontamination equipment is available and properly functioning. Medication on the trucks and EMS vehicles must be inspected and kept up to date. Cots in sleep quarters have to be replaced and up to code.
The Poughkeepsie Fire Department is struggling to keep up with the demands of its growing population and excel at serving its jurisdiction, all due to lack of proper funding.
Poughkeepsie is not alone in this issue. Budget cuts and retention challenges all over the country have a negative impact on compliance, training, the upkeep of equipment and, most worryingly, the safety of responding firefighters and the communities they serve. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, of the 1.2 million firefighters working in 30,000 departments in the United States, 900,000 of them work in volunteer or combination departments. The lack of funding to secure full-time staff and reliance on part-time, volunteer positions means that often ten or fewer firefighters respond to a fire call, significantly less than needed.
Ensuring the safety of the public is a firefighters duty, but in order for them to do their job properly, they too must be protected. If that exhaust system mentioned earlier didn’t resonate, consider this: In addition to the immediate risks of injury and death, firefighters face an elevated risk of cancer due to chronic exposure to carcinogens. Firefighters have a 250 percent greater chance of contracting cancer compared to the general population. On average, 63% of all firefighters will contract cancer, according to recent research published by the IAFC.
Without the funding for proper equipment, technology, and staff, a high-risk job suddenly becomes a lot riskier. Raising awareness on how lack of resources not only impacts firefighters, but also the general public is a major initiative of the Poughkeepsie Fire Department.
Poughkeepsie Fire Department is only one example of a systemic issue plaguing our nation’s fire departments. Issues of funding and a lack public awareness make it difficult for important legislation and ballot measures to succeed in alleviating these issues. Are you a leader in your local fire department? Or is your local department suffering from these same problems? We’d love to shine a light on these issues and help you tell your story. Contact our Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.
The Firefighters and EMS Fund helps to solve the policy and political issues at the local and state that our fire and emergency response personnel face through support of political action. Join our movement today.