I woke up very early this morning with some reflections of how the last week has gone and was thinking back to how much easier it was in the "old days".  While the year 1984 has certain significance to many (you know, the book), the year has certain significance for me because it was my last year to be "one of the guys" and in 1985, I earned my first promotion.

In 1984, things were relatively easy.  I only had to worry about coming to work and making sure my Captain was okay with the things I did, and making sure I didn't screw anything up.  So long as I did what I was told and tried not to overthink things too much, I could blend in with the team and work together, not worrying too much about how my individual issues affected anyone else. 

When I was hired in 1982 I already had some experience in rescue and I was already a certified EMT.  So in 1984, with my prior experience and the two additional years, I had some credibility that I brought to the team.  My job was to drive the squad, which in our department, carried all the rescue and medical tools we had in those days.  If we had a structure fire, I would slide over to drive the ladder truck instead and my officer would drive the squad.  The rest of the crew was on the engine.  That was pretty much the extent of my decisionmaking responsibility.

In 1984, we hadn't embraced the computer as a tool.  Alarm and routine information was entered by hand into the station log book, so one of my most important tools was one of those Bic multi-color pens.  Alarms could be entered in red, other stuff in black or blue, and I can't even remember why we used green, but we did.  Now that was technology.  Things changed in 1985.

By the end of 1984, we had the beginnings of huge changes.  We were adding fire stations and personnel.  The numbers of occupancies in our jurisdiction were growing by leaps and bounds.  We were going through Fire Chiefs as fast as they could be replaced as our commission was being challenged on issues.  We unionized and I was elected the Vice-President of the local.

But my main focus was on the changes in the national industry, because they intrigued me.  As the guy who brought in updated rescue technology from my previous department, I struck forward with the effort to train personnel in confined space entry and rope rescue, in advanced extrication techniques and in the techniques used for structural and trench collapses (when I went through Rescue I and II in Montgomery County, PA in 1981, we were creating tripods, gantries, and a-frames from hemp rope and timber, but the technology went through the roof in a matter of four years).  I got involved on a deeper level and at times, took a lot of heat for it from my colleagues and my superiors as well (nothing like being teased with "Calling Dr. Mick, calling Dr. Mick" because you decide to get your paramedic; ah, but those were the days).

I talked about Heifetz and Linsky in an earlier post and their observation that with change, there is danger.  If you are an agent of change, you will undergo attacks and even character assassination (or ACTUAL assassination: just ask MLK and Gandhi) because you represent a shift from what is comfortable and safe, to unstable and experimental.

Now that we have global access and reach we can share ideas that can both be widely popular and widely challenged.  We have a much more diverse audience and what seems to be understood as a logical solution to an issue may not even be feasible in a different culture or under a different circumstance.  To us, what may be the obvious might be the unreal.  Therefore, it is our responsibility, no matter how surreal the situation, to at least listen and try to comprehend, in an effort to achieve understanding.

That all being said, we all, from our differing viewpoints, carry a responsibility to accept what is right – and by right I mean understood to be realistic and applicable as a result of scientific evaluation and confirmation of our theory, as well as what is right by our fellow man – and not rely on innuendo and supposition.  But when we confirm something to be fact, we need to appreciate it for the change it represents, and regardless of our views on the subject, consider embracing change for the sake of doing what is truly right; that is, what is considered efficacious and for the betterment of our fellow human beings.

Just because someone claims to be the expert, or has insinuated that they should be followed as a result of their experience, fails to understand that what is accepted today is not necessarily the reality, nor is it the ultimate.  Things change.  When someone makes spurious claims, they should back them up with evidence.  Evidence isn't someone saying "this happened", evidence requires substantiated proof.

Things have changed a lot since 1984.  We now have expectations in the emergency service field that require us to challenge the people who say "this is true" not for challenging their authority, but to prove that what it is we take for gospel is correct, and that the service we provide based upon those theories are accurate and for the best of the people we serve.  Failing to operate in a transparent manner is only asking for trouble.   We have to accept criticism for what it is and understand that if we put emotion aside, there might be a grain of truth in what is being said.  By being introspective and realizing our faults, we achieve enlightenment. 'Nuff said.


  • Rescue911 says:

    “Technological change is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.”
    -Albert Einstein

    Change is good. If I was going to have by-pass surgery today, I would want it done based on the technology of 2009 and not the technology of 1984.

  • Capt. Schmoe says:

    If change was always a comfortable process, we propbably wouldn’t be talking about it today. After thinking about your post, I tried to remember changes that I personally had resisted; the changes that I took an active role in opposing.

    Without exception, those changes were ones where I felt the “change was for changes sake”. Whether it was the “management style of the month” from a new city manager or the new “super tool” from a firefighter who went to a seminar at Big County FD, if it didn’t pencil out after a effort vs. benefit analysis, buy in was difficult.

    We have also had difficult changes that were accepted without too much grief. This was possible because a need for the change was demonstrated, it was “sold” properly by a credible source and the desired change was accepted as one with a likely positive outcome.

    As with most difficult issues, a little common sense, rational analysis and trust goes a long way.

  • Capt. Schmoe says:

    Oh yeah, Thanks for the post!!!

  • Freddie M. Bell says:

    When I think back to my first years in the fire service (starting in 1986), my mind doesn’t think about management styles or organizational charts. My mind becomes focused on an issue which truly needed correction: scene lighting. Maybe only us “older guys” will remember the glaring apparatus tailboard spotlight directed into the building entry/exit point (usually at the chief’s urging). When you exited the building, the spotlight was blinding! You couldn’t see ANYTHING for several minutes.

    Thank goodness such horrific practice fell by the wayside after tripod lights, light towers, and self contained generator/lights became commonplace. If you think my take on overall scene lighting is negative, don’t get me started on personal lights of the era (6 volt lanterns and flashlight/battery combos purchased from the local store).

    All fun aside, the eighties and nineties were a time of much change, including: implementation of a variety of management theories and systems, heavy adoption of ICS, technical rescue, and the start (for many agencies) of compliance with many OSHA safety standards. In my observation, those dealing with change included three types of people: 1) those willing for change at the drop of a hat; 2) those willing to change if he/she understood the change or the technologies needed for the change; and 3) those that were not willing to change, no matter the benefit, ease, or understanding of the technology needed to implement the change (aka “sticks in the mud”).

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