Prudent to ask whether firefighters can assist the police

Prudent to ask whether firefighters can assist the police

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Firefighter Gregg Favre criticized my suggestion that firefighters assist the police in promoting public safety in St. Louis (“In the line of fire," Oct. 13). Firefighters, he says, are already too busy and are not trained to perform police duties. But his comments actually make my point.

Firefighting is an American success story. By getting residents to install smoke alarms and builders to use fire-retardant materials in residential and commercial construction, firefighters have greatly reduced the number of fires they have to combat. As a result, they have expanded their public safety tasks to encompass, according to Mr. Favre, “hazmat, water rescues, advanced emergency medical treatment and disaster preparedness initiatives.” Asking firefighters to perform limited police functions augments the widened responsibilities our first responders have already assumed.

Additional training would be necessary, but Mr. Favre points out that firefighters already average 2,000 training hours each year. That’s over 38 hours a week. A few of those hours could be devoted to police training without significant loss to emergency preparedness.

St. Louis is not experiencing a fire emergency, but the city does face a firearm violence problem that is hardly an “issue of the moment” as Mr. Favre calls it. As police and city leaders scramble to find the funds to hire more police officers, it is only prudent to ask whether a few of the nearly 780 uniformed firefighters might be enlisted to assist the police. They are all paid by tax dollars from the same public safety budget to promote, in Mr. Favre’s words, “long-term regional safety, security and stability.”

When a fire occurs, the police routinely assist their fellow emergency responders. Is it too much to ask firefighters to respond in kind?

Richard Rosenfeld  •  St. Louis

Professor, University of Missouri-St. Louis

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