Cooperation, a key to modern firefighting
The art and science of fighting fire has changed dramatically over the past 150 years, but the most essential change may be in the culture of firefighters.
Cooperation, particularly on Martha's Vineyard, has replaced competition, and interdependence has overcome a traditional culture of territorial fire department independence.
Last Sunday afternoon was an example as the hulking aerial ladder machines of the Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and Tisbury fire departments stalked tentatively down Kennebec and Circuit avenues, their basket ladders 75 to 100 feet in the air, peering over, around and between the buildings of downtown Oak Bluffs, planning strategy to make fire, the potential predator, their prey.
The onsite fire drill, first ever between the towns, was designed as a first step in a plan to chart the right positions for maximum reach and access to fires, should they occur, and to familiarize the mutual aid departments with the firefighting environment for maximum efficiency if the real thing occurs.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
The departments also have new technology that will allow the information gathered in notebooks at the drill to be used to help create a software database available instantly to all Martha's Vineyard fire departments in the case of fire.
Mutual aid was not in vogue when many of the buildings in Oak Bluffs were new. In those days, particularly in big cities, firefighting was extremely competitive, when volunteer departments of men and horses raced down city streets, hauling their brightly decorated pumpers, to be first to the hydrant.
The Marquess of Queensbury was not a firefighter in the mid- to late-1800s. History records numerous tales of volunteer fire departments brawling for control of a hydrant while nearby buildings burned unchecked.
Not today. "Fire is the enemy," said Tony Ferriera, assistant chief of the Oak Bluffs Fire Department. "Fire expands exponentially, doubling and redoubling itself over a short time," he said, following a briefing session for a dozen firefighters from the three towns at the Oak Bluffs fire station before the drill.
Cooperation is key, agreed Jesse Steere, now a Tisbury volunteer after 25 years on the Oak Bluffs department, where he was a captain. "Firehouses, particularly larger mainland departments, have always been competitive," he said. "I'm sure it's improved after 9/11, but the rule always was 'never touch another station's equipment.'"