Peter was a fireman. It was a stressful job, but the money was OK and he liked helping people, so Peter enjoyed being a fireman.
The fire station got paid for each callout he made and got an extra payment for putting out fires, but there were many other things to do. Peter had to clean the engine, service the pumps, risk-assess the ladders. Then the controlled equipment – such as fire axes and breathing gear – had to be stowed away, and every week it had to be counted out and counted back in. It quickly occurred to Peter that he was spending more time recording things than actually using them for the benefit of the public!
Being so busy with everything at the station meant ordinary tasks became a nuisance, like confused little old ladies wanting him to rescue their cats stuck up trees. And while originally he was happy to help young people who got trapped during bondage games and needed Emergency Handcuff Cutting, he now felt this EHC was an interruption he could do without!
Then one day his superintendent came and said: "The Department of Fire reckons there are too many fire stations and are cutting our payment.”
"That's ridiculous," replied Peter. “What about the community? Who's going to check smoke detectors and give fire-prevention advice?"
"I'm setting you a target of two fires a day or else you’re sacked," said the superintendent. "I don't care how you do it – just get those conflagrations extinguished!"
Peter started with easy fires, like those caused by staff around the station. But heavy rains meant there was only the odd proper fire to extinguish, and it was hard work to persuade people to let him put out their routine barbecues or wood burners. Even with all staff encouraging the public to have a “bonfire checkup”, he couldn’t reach the targets.
So Peter was forced to start snuffing out people’s candles, and even the odd really bright torch, until finally he resorted to making up fires himself.
Unfortunately, a newspaper investigated one of the big fire stations and found Peter wasn’t alone in this. It suggested that lots of public money was being wasted. Apparently the firefighters’ union had conducted a survey that found firefighters around the country were forced to chase targets, tackling these pointless fires.
The survey said that targets compromise the health and safety of the public and the professional judgment of firefighters. And worse still, at a time when they were trying to argue with the Department of Fire that they provide essential services and need all their money, this landed an own goal by claiming payment for such petty ignitions.
“One thing’s for certain,” concluded the report. “You'd never see this situation in any other essential public service, such as the NHS!”