Friday, November 18, 2011

Two Fire Chiefs

There once was a fire chief whose time as chief was coming to an end. In all the excitement surrounding his impending retirement, he became careless about a number of things, including what he did with the used motor oil from the fire engines and other official vehicles. Instead of recycling it, he had it poured out on the ground near the fire station. He knew of the danger, and several of his employees warned him that something bad could happen, but his attention was focused elsewhere, and he ignored their advice.

The incoming chief was a younger man with very little experience. In fact, he had never even been a firefighter, but he had done a great deal of organizing for the firefighters’ union. He was to take charge at the end of the chief’s retirement ceremony. He had ascended to the position by promising “change” and also promising never to return to the “failed policies of the past,” such as putting out fires with water and other proven methods of fire suppression.

The day of the chief’s retirement finally arrived. The firefighters had planned a retirement celebration which had gotten underway. During the celebration, the oil near the station caught fire. (It was suspected that some of the new chief’s friends actually set the fire in an attempt to help him off to a good start by giving him a chance to look good right away.)

Soon the fire station itself was on fire. The retiring chief took charge and began the process of getting the fire put out with the help of all the firefighters present. Good progress was being made, but before the fire was completely extinguished, the time came for the transition of leadership to take place.

The new fire chief immediately announced that he was in charge, and although he had no idea what to do about the fire, he asked his predecessor to leave. Before addressing the issue, he gave an acceptance speech in which he proclaimed that from now on, all problems involving fires would automatically and almost miraculously cease due to his presence with the department.

Even though he had no answers, the first thing he did after his speech was stop all firefighting activity and call a press conference to make it clear to everyone that he had inherited the fire from his predecessor. He then formed a committee of college professors and lawyers to study the situation, and he appointed a “Fire Czar” to oversee the committee. He then went to the city council to request funds to finance the new committee and the new czar’s salary, complete with all the benefits and freebies appropriate for someone in such an exalted position.

After meeting with his new czar and committee, he returned to the scene of the fire and called another press conference to announce that a plan was in place to put out the fire, pending approval of the environmental impact study and completion of numerous other reports and studies. Since this was going to take some time, he sent all the firefighters on vacation. He then decided that he might as well play some golf.

When the studies and reports were complete and approved, he finished his 74th round of golf since the fire started, left the golf course, and sent some firefighters to fight the fire, which now was in the process of burning all the buildings within a mile in all directions, by pouring 5,000 gallons of gasoline on it. When the fire got bigger, he ordered them to pour 10,000 gallons of gasoline on it. Not only did the fire not go out as he had decreed, it now was totally out of control, engulfing many city blocks and creeping into the nearby forest.

He finally came up with a solution. He ordered his firefighters to pour 500,000 gallons of gasoline on the fire. This, of course, made the fire much larger, which surprised him greatly, since his ideology told him the fire should have immediately gone ont. It also used up most of the reserves of gasoline, which would be hard to replace, since oil drilling, pipelines, and refineries were all on his “hit list.” When people accused him of making the fire worse through his solution, he reminded them that he had inherited the problem, and if he had not poured the gasoline on the fire, it would have become much worse. People should be thankful that his efforts had saved the city from a much larger disaster.

Three years went by, and he continued to have gasoline poured on the fire. Of course, the fire continued to burn and get larger. He used up many city resources that had been designated for other things, including police personnel and equipment and additional firefighting equipment as he bought more and more gasoline. He continued to blame his predecessor – “I inherited this problem, and if I had not acted decisively, it would be much worse.”

He continued to believe that the only way to put out the fire would be to re-double his efforts with the gasoline, but some of his own men balked at that idea, suggesting that they needed to use the fire control efforts they knew would work. He again responded that it would be irresponsible to go back to the “failed ideas of the past,” completely ignoring the facts that those procedures had a proven track record of putting out fires and also that his procedure had done nothing but make the problem worse.

He continued to blame his predecessor – “I inherited this problem. It’s his fault.” He went on by claiming it was his opponents – probably those pesky police officers – not his own men, who were preventing him from doing what was necessary.

The fire never did get put out. Instead, it just ran out of fuel and went out on its own. However, at least he was able to continue to blame his predecessor, and he was able to get more borrowed money allocated to further cover the cost of his new committee. Of course, he did not use the revenue for that purpose. Instead, he gave it to his friends who ran the unions.

In spite of all of his efforts to make things better, it soon became obvious that total tax revenue was going down, because the fire had destroyed so many businesses and homes, forcing people out of the area, which in turn made the tax base smaller. This caused him to petition city hall to further raise taxes to make up the shortfall. He demanded that those who were already paying all the taxes be compelled to pay their “fair share.” That way, he figured he could raise enough revenue for more gasoline to put out the fire, but he could also give rebates to all those who paid no taxes at all. That would be “win-win” for him. Just in case the revenue did not come in from the greedy rich people, he made alternate plans to borrow whatever amount was needed from China. Hopefully, that would provide enough that he could actually exempt all those who liked him from paying any taxes at all and shift the entire tax burden to his political enemies.

Even though he knew, in spite of all of the evidence, that gasoline was extremely effective in putting out fires, he also requested an additional amount of revenue to study alternative fire suppression sources, since as ethanol, wind, solar, etc. He figured that would get him in good with the environmental lobby and other anti-oil groups.

He also requested twenty-five 50,000 gallon gasoline tanks to be used to fight future fires, if and when the city and the fire station ever got rebuilt. His wisdom told him that the best way to solve a problem is to do more of what caused the problem. Of course, the city and the forest were all but completely destroyed, but forests could grow again, and “the rich” and businesses, at least those who did not move away, could always be soaked for even more taxes in order to pay for more of his brilliant solutions to problems that weren’t his fault.

Thankfully, his term as chief finally came to an end, and there was nothing better at the end than it had been at the beginning. Actually, everything was much worse. But come on… at least he was sincere.


  1. Yes, but can countries grow back?

    Grace and peace.

  2. Great question, Pumice. I guess I described the problem but not the solution.


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