You have likely heard others say, “Discretion is the better part of valor”. This is actually a misquote. In fact, Shakespeare’s Falstaff said: “The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have sav’d my life.” You have to understand the context in which Falstaff said this, which was after playing dead to escape being killed. His justification was that words like “honor” and “valor” will get you nothing once you’re dead. Falstaff’s suggestion implies that feigning death in this situation, which was a cowardly act, was defensible because what good are those terms if you are dead?
There is a certain argument made by people in our profession that indeed, having a safety mindset is, well, cowardly. There is a belief that the goal of the reflective vest-wearing, “yard-breather” population is to deprive each and every one of you out there of a draped casket and a bagpipe escort, that ‘tis much better to serve you and your company up as cannon fodder and damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. If you want to meet the objective of a LODD funeral, I suggest that at least you do it for a good reason. Unfortunately, given the statistics, that’s the least likely way you’ll go down in our business.
While there are excesses in every aspect of our lives, and I’ll grant that the safety officers sometimes come up with some really less-than-fun approaches to our jobs, you aren’t serving any purpose to get killed in training, except to inflate the LODD death statistic every year. If you happened to be one of the valiant 343 who died saving the equivalent population of several small cities, to me, you are a hero. If you happen to die because you refuse to buckle your seat belt, to me, less so.
We must make snap decisions daily that involve life and death. Sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes, things don’t go as expected. In the eyes of some, discretion suggests cowardice, but to me, discretion suggests a good command of resources and appropriate application of force to create leverage, thus defeating an enemy. Napoleonic conflict didn’t go out of vogue because it was effective; instead commanders realized the solution was impossible if there were a finite number of live bodies available. Thus, there was a practical need to change their approach.
If I may appeal to your rational side, if safe practices are really just sucking the life out of you, then try thinking about it from the perspective of your survivors. When you go off half-cocked and do something you think might be “heroic”, the rest of us often have to clean up the resultant mess. You may be off to Valhalla or whatever it is you believe in, but the rest of us earthbound souls have to pick up where you left off, get the kids to school, pay the bills, go to other calls, etcetera, etcetera. Like it or not, when you tap out 5-5-5-5 on us, life goes on down here. If you want valor, talk to a mother supporting several young children on a firefighter death benefit, or those same children who must go on and now won’t get to see Daddy at Christmas. Those individuals represent valor to me.
Discretion is, in truth, the better part of valor, if you are of the belief that there is more to life than another parking lot. Sometimes it takes more courage to push on. If you can’t see that for yourself, put yourself in the shoes of those who have to deal with the aftermath. If you’re not going to be safe for your own sake, do it for your family. There’s nothing heroic about making dumb choices.
While the vest-wearers may have a job we don’t like as much, in essence, they are there to protect ourselves from ourselves. We have to pull back on the reins sometimes and that goes against what some of you all might like, but honestly, we need a much more mature attitude from everyone on the team when it comes to approach of our most dangerous situations. Like we football coaches say to the youngster who has just done his best T.O. imitation in the end zone: “Act like you’ve been there before.” If we can all exhibit calm, cool, professional behavior, not only will we conquer every emergency, but we might live to talk about it later.