Sunday, May 25, 2014

My Dad is a Pole Dancer

The first firehouse pole was installed in New York City in April of 1878. The firehouse poles made intuitive sense, especially in urban areas. Building space was tight, so firefighting wagons and horses lived on the first floor while the firefighters lived on the second floor. Sliding down a pole is indeed faster than using the stairs, with one fire chief saying they save about 25 seconds in response time over using stairs.

There are just two types of workplaces that typically have poles -- but since this is a family friendly blog, I will focus on the more heroic of the two: fire stations. The image of firefighters sliding down a fire pole as alarms scream in the background is iconic. But is it really necessary? Does a firefighter sliding down a firehouse pole really save time?
Even though fire poles do save time, they're becoming less and less common in modern firehouses. Not only are they expensive, but they can also be dangerous to the firefighters. Trying to slide down a pole as quickly as possible can sometimes result in an injury. In 2013, 74.2 percent of all firefighter injuries that occur while responding to or returning from an incident involve a strain, sprain or muscular pain. The report doesn't break those injuries down into pole and non-pole categories, but it is not hard to imagine how many firefighters could get hurt sliding down a slick 20-foot pole. And beyond the injuries that could happen while actually using the pole to respond to a call, an open hole in the second floor of a building means that there's always a risk someone will fall down it. Plus, with an opening leading directly from where fire trucks are kept to where firefighters live, unhealthy fumes can easily creep into sleeping and eating areas.
While most firehouses that currently have poles are keeping them, they're also enclosing them at the top and putting pads at the bottom, to reduce the risk of injury. Newer firehouses (at least those that have the space) are being built all on one story. No fire poles needed.  

This blog is always about technology. So what’s your point, Tom?
Firehouses have fire poles, but we forget WHY firehouses had fire poles installed in the first place. We THINK that firefighters slide down fire poles because the extra 25 seconds saved is worth the expense, worth the risk, and worth the many liabilities. We feel that a firehouse without a fire pole is not a real firehouse. The mental picture of a fireman using such fire pole technology is something that we “feel” and it is that feeling that has kept fire poles from becoming extinct. When it comes to technology, we often buy or use things based on how we feel. When kids tour or visit a firehouse on a field trip, especially a single level firehouse out in the country where there is no need for a space saving two-story structure - what is the first thing the kid will ask the firefighter giving the tour? “Where’s the fire pole?” Our hearts tell us that firehouses should have fire poles, while our brains tell us that firehouses don't need them.

Installing poles in firehouses in the 1800’s made sense. Today, not so much.  It was a good use of “technology” and it allowed for two-story firehouses to exist. Installing a pole to save “an extra 25 seconds” made perfect sense. Firehouses that were NOT downtown, firehouses that were free-standing structures would install fire poles because that’s what firehouses have - firehouses have fire poles. If the men were on the 2nd floor, even if the firehouse was miles away from the people and 25 saved seconds is not the key issue, the firehouse would STILL have a firepole.
Can you find the outdated technology based “fire poles” in your business? And did you ever need these technologies in the first place?

OK, we don't need a fire pole. 
How about a $250,000 slide?

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