hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shopping with the Fire Department

The Fire District has a lot of money and so I guess that means they should be spending it, else why do they have it?  Last night's meeting featured lots of spending:  first, there were warrants approved for almost $32,000 worth of monthly expenses.  Which does make a dent in their monthly income.  (They have about $550,000 in tax money plus a capital reserve account with $183,000 and a long-ago-leftover-Bingo-Money account for maybe $50,000.  Plus some other savings.  So they're not spending it all, or at least not yet.)

However, after the warrants, the expensive problems were addressed: there's the heating and air conditioners that need to be bought or replaced; there's a water problem, maybe a septic problem.  The latter could be another $40,000.  At one point, somebody laughingly noted that "Tonight everything costs $40,000."  Why not?

The major discussion point came with the proposal to buy a second thermal imaging camera (TIC), which is a camera used particularly in smoky fires to locate living beings inside a building.  You want more information, I recommend Wikipedia.   The central issue for this $10,000 piece of equipment was this:  In order to train the volunteers to use the TIC, the Department has to take the volunteers and the equipment somewhere else to practice its use.  Thus, if one had a fire in which the TIC would be life-saving, it might not be available  (nor many of the volunteers, I guess).  So the second TIC would be a back-up.

This is a reasonable question and it is why God and the Universities created Technology Assessment.  God and the Universities did not, however, create Feeling Assessment, as in "How would we feel if this happened and someone lost his life?"  But Feeling Assessment was what made the decision with respect to purchasing the second TIC.  The answer is, "We would feel very bad, and so it is worth $10,000 to not risk our feeling bad."

Technology assessment, of course, helps one make hard decisions as to when it makes sense (not when it provides good feelings) to obtain or not obtain such equipment.  And I might have thought that the role of the Commissioners would be to think about how risky it might be not to have a second TIC.  They might have asked the Fire Chief how many fires a year do we have in P.R. and in how many of them would a TIC be helpful?  Potentially life-saving?  Actually life-saving? How many days of the year would the current TIC be off the Point for training?  How long would it take to get Delta to bring theirs down?  How likely is it that such a problem would arise in which no TIC would be available?  Has it ever happened?

But no such questions arose.  There are many hard questions about spending money to decrease risks to people.  The answer is not, of course, "Well, how much is a life worth?," a question usually vaguely addressed skywards, and actually asked several times during this discussion.  Technology Assessment routinely addresses that question, but it is hard for people not trained in it to obtain and negotiate such data and make these hard decisions.  But that is why we pay them the big bucks.  Except, of course, we don't pay the Commissioners  big bucks.  So that might explain why they don't make any hard decisions: they just say "Yes, buy it."  Of course, what if the first TIC is out on a training mission and the second TIC has a problem as technological devices often do?  Maybe we ought to buy a third one in case the second one malfunctions?  And what if the second one malfunctions, and nobody remembers where the third one is kept?  Maybe a fourth one wouldn't be a bad idea?  But where should we keep it?

The doubling of the Fire District levy was passed in 2010.  It will last for 6 years  and then the Commissioners will have to go back to the voters to ask for a new levy.  Until then, I imagine that they'll continue to spend without asking what really justifies buying all this stuff.  Why am I not surprised?  UPDATE and correction: Commissioner Meursing informs me that the new levy approved in 2010 goes on forever, not just for six years.  Well, forever, until we are asked to raise it again.  And then, we say...what do we say?  (8 may 2013)

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