Friday, March 6, 2015

Congratulations! It’s a Fire Truck!

Today’s post is as much about the sad state of modern journalism as it is about firefighting.

One of our local news stations posted an article to its website about the delivery of a new fire engine to the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District (, located in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. Now, getting a new rig is A Big Deal for most fire departments, especially those that don’t have the luxury of a large budget. You know how it feels when you buy a new car? Same thing on a larger scale. Firefighters like new toys, and toys don’t get much bigger or better than a shiny new fire truck!

Firefighters at Northeast Teller County (CO) Fire Protection District
clean their new fire engine before putting it into service. (via Facebook)
But fire departments don’t just go out and buy new vehicles on a whim. Nowadays, a brand new fire engine costs around $250,000 - $300,000 on the low end. Fire departments will buy new apparatus to replace vehicles that are aging and becoming more difficult to keep in service. A growing department will buy additional apparatus to support expanding operations and to improve emergency service to the community. In other words, no one goes out and buys a new truck just for the fun of it. There has to be justification for a large purchase like that.

However, the writer of this news story apparently doesn’t know just what a new fire truck means to firefighters and the citizens it will serve. He or she simply copied bits from the NETCFPD Facebook page to create a three-sentence “story” that basically said the department has a new fire truck and its members are “excited” about the acquisition.

That’s it.

The basic tenets of journalism require writers to answer the questions of who, what, when, where, and why. This “story” failed on all accounts. Right off the bat, the writer didn’t even get the name of the department/district correct. The vehicle was described simply as a “fire truck” so the reader doesn’t even know what kind of apparatus was delivered (engine, truck, rescue, etc.). There was no mention of why the rig was purchased (replacement vehicle or expansion of the fleet?), how the purchase was funded (important for the taxpayers to know), when the vehicle will be in service, what capabilities it has, or how the purchase benefits district residents.

Sadly, this kind of uninformed writing is all too rampant in the digital age. I used to blog about typos and bad writing, but I had to give it up. It was a time-suck and there is simply an overabundance of bad grammar, spelling, punctuation, and syntax to keep up with.

Perhaps it is na├»ve of me, but I keep hoping that what I do here on this blog will help writers better understand the fire service. When writers perpetuate stereotypes or misinformation, it tarnishes writer credibility and doesn’t do the fire service any favors, either.

In the meantime, congratulations to Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District on its new engine. May it serve the district well for many years.