The alarm sounds. Firefighters jump from their bunks, pull up their boot straps, and sprint toward the station's fire . slide. These days, not every fire station comes with the iconic brass pole. Many fire departments across the USA have or are opting instead to install a slide, either of the plastic looping variety or the traditional steel playground-style.
Sometimes it's for safety or insurance purposes, and sometimes it just suits the station better.
In Ocean City, Md., volunteer fire company president Cliff Christello said the company is weighing the possibility of installing a slide at its new firehouse, which is still on the drawing board. He said the company won't be installing a pole because the insurer balked.
Christello said the potential injuries a firefighter faces when up against a 20-foot drop aren't minor. A knee or ankle could sustain real damage by coming to an abrupt stop at the end.
"And to be honest with you, the national trend is doing away from them (poles), because of insurance reasons. Because they've done this study, and they've said 'These guys are spraining their ankles, and everything else on the pole,'" he said.
The liability risk of fire poles is typically a workers compensation issue, one handled at the municipal level, according to Scott Harkins, senior vice president of Risk Control Services for Volunteer Firemen's Insurance Services Inc., an insurer of emergency services operations.
In Dublin, Ohio, firefighters skipped the pole when they built Fire Station 95 because nagging injuries had plagued others late in their careers, according to former chief Gene Bostick.
The station's design constraints -- it's built into the base of a water tower -- demanded something other than a fire pole.
"You don't have the impact when they come down, to maybe do injury to the back or neck or shoulders," Bostick said.
The National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, Mass., takes no official stance on whether slides or poles are superior.
"You have to have it in a gated enclosure or behind a door," said NFPA spokesman Ken Willette. "We leave it to the local community to determine whether a fire pole is correct for them or not."
Written by USA TODAY
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