fire trucks

I want to start this post by thanking the fire department for what they do. Obviously, they save lives and property, and have one of the least morally ambiguous jobs out there. That said, they are so almost universally revered that you wonder if it is okay to voice any doubts about the way they do things. So I was surprised to see this article voicing some of my own questions about whether fire trucks need to be so big. When I lived in Singapore, I noticed that they didn’t use the huge fire trucks – they were more like vans, and used some kind of foam rather than pure water. Now, the buildings in Singapore are almost all very modern, and all have prominent water hookups, and streets are very wide. Singapore chose to bulldoze a lot of its older buildings and streets at some point and start fresh, and I would not necessarily want my home city of Philadelphia to do that – I love our narrow streets, largely 19th century housing including my own house, and the walkability, mom-and-pop businesses and odd scattered public spaces it leads to. Another thing is that as an engineer occasionally involved in aspects of street design, the fire department is sometimes a voice in opposition to change. Take bumpouts for example that create  a shorter crossing distance for school children at intersections. These will save lives. The fire department will say that these slow down fire trucks making turns, and anything that slows down fire trucks could cost lives. I am not saying this is the wrong dialog to have, but the fire department shouldn’t always be the bullies getting their way, the two safety issues should be weighed against each other and a rational (okay, at least political) decision made.

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