It’s The Minimum

If you didn't have standards, this might be your first out engine.  Swan River, Queensland, Australia 2002

If you didn't have standards, this might be your first out engine. Swan Creek/Emu Creek Bushfire Brigade, Queensland, Australia 2002

Authentic Neapolitan pizzas are typically made with tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese.  Genuine Neapolitan pizza dough consists of high-protein wheat flour (type 0 or 00, or a mixture of both), natural Neapolitan yeast or brewer’s yeast, salt and water. The dough must be kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer. After the rising process, the dough must be formed by hand without the help of a rolling pin or other machine, and may be no more than 3 mm (⅛ in) thick. The pizza must be baked for 60–90 seconds in a 485 °C (905 °F) stone oven with an oak-wood fire.[4] When cooked, it should be crispy, tender and fragrant.

Those were just a few of the standards for an authentic Neapolitan pizza (published on Wikipedia), as recognized and protected by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.  Likewise, most of the things you take for granted in the world, with the exception of things like knock-off Rolexes, are constructed from materials meeting standards, are built to certain standards, and if they carry any kind of guarantee of quality or workmanship, must meet performance standards.

Unless your organization is living in a 1950’s time warp, the people in your community, when they call the fire department for help, expect help for many things that exceed the scope of “firefighting”.  Regardless of whether your community is staffed with a career or a volunteer department, there are increased expectations on the level of service being provided.  I can rationally argue the need for standards on a number of different levels.  I will, however, only provide you with this one today; it’s the minimum.

If you want to call yourself a firefighter, there are certain things you should be able to do.  If you cannot do these things, you run the risk of hurting yourself, not to mention others.  You also run the risk of making an emergency greater than it was when you arrived.  As a reasonable and prudent individual with a duty to act, you agree that your “job” (as a firefighter) entails certain knowledge, skills, and abilities to allow your organization the ability to advertise a product. What that product is in your jurisdiction could be limited to fighting fire or could be all-hazards, or anywhere in between.

Your community, in supporting the “fire department”, does so with the understanding that you are what you say you are.  The community defines that expectation; if their only expectation is that a group of bubbas show up to put out a fire when it occurs, then maybe you don’t need to meet a standard.  If that’s the case though, when insurance companies decide the risk is too great in your community, don’t be surprised when the citizenry can’t get coverage and they hang you (or your chief) in effigy at the town square.  And that may be getting off light.

Minimum standards, among other things, define.  Since a group of individuals representing different aspects of the world affected by a certain thing decided and agreed on a definition, and that group is recognized by the others affected by that thing, the definition becomes a standard.  I could write a standard on constructing nuclear plants and declare it the minimum standard, but since I have no authority or expertise in doing so, my standard would likely be considered meaningless and useless.

For those who aren’t in favor of standards, I’d suggest that it’s not that you aren’t in favor of standards, but what is in those standards and how they came to be.  If that’s the case, I’d say that before you make any proclamations on a standard being a “bad” standard, you seek to understand how that definition came to be and how it happens to be the minimum.  In many cases, I’d bet that you’d find that others wanted a much stricter or more restricting definition and the end result was what everyone on that committee agreed was acceptable for use or was prudent.

Like I tell the people who work with me, don’t complain about anything unless you tried to do something about it.  If you don’t like a standard, feel free to get involved.  But the long and short of it is this: standards exist for at least one primary reason, and that reason is to define what something is.  In the absence of any other meaningful definition, if something close fills that void, that standard will be the one that defines the subject matter.  You can be angry about it if you like, but if you don’t like it, change it.

In the meanwhile, if it’s an accepted standard, you can assume you’ll have to meet it.  You can say all day that you choose not to meet certain standards, but if you are like me, you will understand that to not do so will leave you open to a number of things, including liability.  The only way to escape it is to lay that decision on the people who are at that payscale: the politicians. But that’s a blog post for another day.

Stay safe and do the best you can with what you have.  But remember, the standard is what defines you.  If you have no standard, you have no definition, and in that case, a monkey can do your job.  Even pizzas are made to standards.  If having no standard is what your community believes to be okay, then know that you ultimately get what you pay for, and if your community doesn’t support a department with minimum expectations of members, they shouldn’t be surprised when everything within the city limits are a smoking ruin some weekend.


  • Dave says:

    How do you and your readers feel about an annual minimum standards test to stay on the job??? Along with a minimum fitness standards test??

    I’m a big supporter of these but,I feel as though I’m in the minority on this one. I personally like the fact that the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps is required to qualify with a fitness test, and his weapon, annually. Any thoughts Chief???

  • truck6alpha says:

    I’m okay with an annual minimum standards test, mostly because I am against requiring a number of hours for training and supportive of competency-based training. The main problem as I see it with competency based training, however, is when you have evaluators who are reluctant or unwilling to insist on actual competency.

    I really like the fact that the Commandant has to qualify as well, since I’m sure it does great things for morale. I personally go out and take our physical fitness competencies with the troops even though I’m no longer required to. I’m not as fast as I used to be, but when the young bucks see the old man out there dragging that manikin, they know they’d better at least beat my time.

    What are your thoughts?

  • Dave says:

    Sounds like I’m preaching to the choir Chief 🙂

    It just fries me that our dept, along with our union, resists annual fitness testing so vigorously. The dept because it’s a money issue. The union because it’s seen as a way to get rid of those who can’t get off their asses. Very frustrating. Especially given that we have to do con ed and skills review for our EMS qualifications but, once you’re done with the academy, you never have to be tested for competency again….just wrong in my opinion.

  • Jim Still says:

    good stuff….

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