Stuck In The Past

The definition of something “world-class” years ago led me to consider what we mean in the fire service when we say “world-class” in the same breath as “progressive” and “professional”. The use of these terms is truly in the eye of the beholder. Given the evidence that continues to mount in the Charleston incident, many people in that community are struggling through the nightmare of believing their fire department was the definition of excellence only to find that the leadership mentality was still operating in the past.

I guess its all in how you frame your reference as to what is acceptable versus what is “excellent”. It certainly sounds as if that culture is evolving into a better place with Chief Carr at the helm. But across the entire fire service, while exposed to so many ideas, we continue visit the same problems within our own organizations that other organizations have been experiencing for years.

Professionalism or progressiveness isn’t defined by experiencing the same problems over and over again. Being effective doesn’t include repeating mistakes that others have made, got the t-shirt for, and moved on from. If learning isn’t occurring from all of the rhetoric, then what use is it? When your organization is experiencing such dysfunction that it is obvious even to the newest recruit, then how clueless are you to insist that everything is coming up roses?

The sad part is that this lesson has to come on the backs of dedicated firefighters and the deaths of our brothers. While it appears our friends in Charleston are moving forward, we continue to read story after story around the rest of the nation of lessons that continue to be learned the hard way. After all, how many unbelted firefighter LODDs need we read about before deciding once and for all that using our seatbelt is a smart idea?

Instead of reading the news and saying, “Wow, that’s incredible”, perhaps we should be saying, “Wow, how do I make sure that doesn’t happen here?” Be an agent of productive and progressive change. Set the positive example and show others what the real definition of progressive and professional is and be a real leader.

  • http://www.twitter.com/fm114fd fm114fd

    What a difference a click makes… I just left Dave Statter’s blog reading the comments on a video posted by someone in Waldorf, MD. The rhetoric is amazing, and definitely not productive. I am saddened to read comments by people in our profession, bashing the use of PPE, accountability, SCBA and just plain common sense. Here’s the link: http://statter911.com/2010/08/02/house-fire-video-waldorf-maryland/

    Why DO we continue to resist change, to our own detriment? What is it about the fire service that says, “Here’s a good idea. I think I will completely ignore it, as it’s something different than what I’ve done for the past 20 years”??

    Call me anything you like (and following my comment to the mentioned post, I’m certain there will be some good insults hurled my way), but I’m going home at the end of my shift. In one piece, no lung damage or cancer brewing besides from the already polluted government air I breath every other day.

    How many of those “firefighters” would put a loaded gun to their head and squeeze the trigger ever so slightly? It may not go off today, but you keep doing it and eventually that gun is going to kill you. Explain to me how failing to use your PPE (all of it) is any different than pointing a loaded gun at your own head? You might get lucky 900 times in a row, but that 901st when the thing goes Bang! sure is a b@tch to come back from…

    Stay safe, take care of each other, and get the job done. In that order.

  • http://www.firehousezen.com truck6alpha

    I think part of the problem is that there are plenty of us out there who react to things like these videos (although I missed them, I can only guess at what transpired) but there are many who fail to learn from them. Without getting into what happened but discussing the reaction, as a chief officer, I insist on adherence to best safety practices. But I am not a hypocrite either- I know sometimes something gets missed when all hell is breaking loose, and I find it more effective to say, “Hey, man, when you’re pulling that ceiling, how about using those goggles” or something light like that. I’m not going to rub their nose in it, I just want them to be safe for their own sake.

    The ones who scare me though are those who think that being safe goes hand in hand with cowardice. There’s a huge difference between cowardice and using appropriate risk management. I have a wife and three young children at home. While I know that if my time comes doing the job, it comes; I also know that taking an unnecessary risk that isn’t going to result in anything but another LODD isn’t being very brave for my family either. Same thing goes for PPE use; when my daughters are having to figure out what nursing home to put me in because I can’t breathe anymore, really, who is impacted here?

    I look at this job as an art form. You can actually be an aggressive firefighter and be safe. There’s a lot of wisdom to be seen in someone who picks their battles: I’ll risk a lot to save a life, but very little to save the building, and not at all to save the unsavable. If someone chooses to show how much hair is on their chest by risking themselves for no good reason, I say, don’t be the one standing up there going on about how risky our job is. That’s not honorable risk, that’s just throwing good after bad.

  • Pingback: A Little Safety Parable | Firehouse Zen

  • B/C Edward P Keighron

    I am a Battalion Chief in SC, I started fighting fire (on Long Island) back when we we’re called “Fireman” and we wore Canvas Coats, Leather New Yorkers, Rubber Boots and Orange Rubber Gloves. (If you could find a pair). Air Packs were optional, and training came from your officers.

    You were allowed to wear your department patch (The Rug) after you earned it. I am happy to say some of those things have changed. Thanks to the NFPA and the lessons learned from our mistakes and our losses. I’m sorry to say some of those things are gone, such as The Rug requirements.

    What troubles this Ol’ Fireman is some of us have not learned the lessons of our past.

    We are finding that some of the younger crowd of “Firefighter” coming into the service does not hold the drive that I believe I did when I started this business some 35+ years ago.

    When we speak of the “Paid” or “Professional” fire departments we find that most will enforce training requirements.

    Most will have firefighters complete “Academy Training” to some level, be it FFI or FFII.

    What disturbs me is, here today, with all of the LODD’s we read about nearly EVERY DAY, the Volunteer Fire Service still finds a way to dismiss minimum training requirements.

    The attitude of “We’re Volunteers”, “We Don’t Get Paid For This Stuff”, “I Don’t Have Time For It”, “My Chief Doesn’t Make Us Go” “I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!” “WE DON’T HAVE THAT KIND OF CALL VOLUME” is killing us. And yet there are Chief Officers that allow it to continue.

    I made this statement in a recent department meeting.

    “We have young Firefighters walking around with portable radios hanging off our hips, wearing T-Shirts with the department name in big bold letters, we have lights and sirens in our POV’s, we have excuses to not be at work, or school, or home because we have to be at the fire station, we tell stories of our heroic achievements. And we have never spend a day in the classroom.”

    Departments across the country worry people may quit if we were to enforce all of the training requirements. People have to work for a living.

    We as firefighters, We as Chief Officers, We as the leaders need to find a way to get the young people trained.

    You want to be a hero? Lets start by saving some Firefighter Lives!

  • M. Mayes

    I have been on the job 24 years. I have seen the service change slowly at times. I have seen knee jerk reactions that made system changes over night. Both types of change are dangerous. The fire service swings on a pendulum from one death to another. Constant, and I feel chronic investigation into every incident. Do we need the answers from every death? Sure we do. But do we need to change the system every time a firefighter passes, absolutely not. We must strive to understand why we perform the jobs we do. Why were the FF in the place that caused a death. Or more importantly, why did that FF(s) think it was a position or place they could survive. We hear the risk management model of risk alot to save a life, risk a little to save a building and so on. The issue with this model for me is this, it is a civilian based model. By that I mean, it is a model based on the fact that if you avoid risk, no harm will come to you. So we stand and beat drums making lots of noise, and claim this as our model. We chastise any FF who does not adhere to this when captured on youtube. But here comes the interesting part. It can only be applied on a fire scene. The number one killer, heart related emergencies. Several are noted at the station, not on scene. Now, lets get the heavy hitter, number two, accidents. Every run we make involves doing the most dangerous part of our job. We cannot ever consider truly managing risk by avoiding it. We must train to minimize the risk based on knowledge and skill. Bring balance and consistency to our training models across the board, no matter how or where you get a paycheck. No excuses! We must look beyond the objectives of the training but really drive further into how FFs process information. How the brain relays that training back to the FF under the stress of a real emergency. How does your training come back to you when we are at the “everyday” bread and butter calls?

    Work, hard work is the hallmark of the fire service. There is no easy way out of it and no easy way around it. In some ways I never want to see that part change. Train hard, work hard, put out the fire. Use every piece of technology that is offered in you gear and training. Use your gear/equipment every call to its fullest potential, good FFs came before you and paid that price. Only when we learn to balance all these factors will we be able to manage the risk of firefighting. Until then brothers, train today. Train hard, work hard and go put out fires!

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.
Recent Posts
Jumping Through Hoops August 4, 2014
Questioning Heroism July 13, 2014
Compassion July 2, 2014
Making Lightning June 22, 2014
Comments
Colin Fanning
The Roto-Ray: Beauty or Beast?
One of the most important facts we reviewed when deciding on the roto ray purchase was this; With the speeds of traffic on SC 278, by the time people heard the sirens on our fire trucks our light bars (on top of the roof) were out of sight. The roto ray, with its mounted location…
2014-07-25 15:07:00
Mick Mayers
Questioning Heroism
Thanks, Bryan! I genuinely believe I do and they tend to reward me with professionalism, innovation, and compassion to our citizens daily. That's something I am happy to facilitate.
2014-07-15 04:10:00
Bryan G. Riebe
Questioning Heroism
Chief, appreciated in your response to Geoff that you work for the FFs. Believe if more Chiefs lived that philosophy our fire services would be bastions of honor, ethics, and human potential.
2014-07-15 00:05:00
Christopher Roy
Questioning Heroism
Geoff, EMS, as its own service, does not have a strong voice and in turn, does not get the respect in the media/public that it does deserve. I do hope that changes. EMS doesn't have a home either, and that doesn't help. There are so many different delivery methods in this country that its probably…
2014-07-14 23:49:00
Mick Mayers
Questioning Heroism
I'm sorry you feel that way, Geoff. The department I work with has been doing EMS (advanced care AND transport) with cross-trained personnel for over twenty years and doing a pretty good job. Our community expects a certain level of service that we have been able to provide through that model and while not every…
2014-07-14 22:01:00

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Although I am affiliated or employed by certain entities, I in no way speak in this forum or others on behalf of those entities unless I have specifically stated such. Any implication otherwise is doing so contrary to my agreements with those entities. The result is that the observations and opinions by myself or on behalf of Firehouse Zen are not sanctioned by any other entity other than Graffiti Train Sherpa Publications and are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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