A Swedish Massage (or is it message?)


Between emotion and other factors, sometimes people make issues out of things they know nothing about, or they fail to consider the facts before they resort to anger.  So I kept that partially in mind when I saw the headline about the Swedish fire service “expert” who spoke at FRI this week.  Obviously, even the headlines suggested a certain amount of anger from individuals in the American fire service about his statements.  

While the headline of the linked article hit me in the gut a little, I was prepared to read something that I would not agree with, nor could ever agree with.  In fact, before I even read the article, I already made up my mind that this guy was some academic who had never actually fought a fire before, and now he was going to tell us what we are doing wrong.  Before making a statement, however, I actually read the article and you know what?  In some of the points he made, he is absolutely right.

I don’t equate the comments he made on RIC (people were making unsafe decisions way before we had to come up with a way to save them from those decisions) as being anything other than his observation.  While it may seem to him that people drive more recklessly since they feel safer in their cars, I think there are a few other factors at play when we suggest that firefighters have more comfort from having a RIC present, so they are comfortable taking more risk.  I think just the understanding of the fact that a two-man or four-man RIC isn't likely going to get you out of a situation keeps me from going down that slippery slope.  But while there are plenty of other things to agree with, those items are debate for another day.  What I wanted to talk about was our reactions to the headline as compared to the level of “emotional intelligence” or commonly known as “EQ” (in contrast to IQ) that most people have and how EQ relates to certain events.

I want to keep this brief, but it really plays out in society as I see rational individuals presented with particular situations and instead of reacting to them rationally, they relate to them emotionally instead, and fail to grasp the true issues in play.  Instead of seeking understanding, they presume their perception of an event to be the “facts” and are reluctant to see the alternative points of view.  Some individuals with higher EQ can be educated, or shown the other views, and then make decisions based on those facts.  Others with a little lower EQ may go grudgingly toward understanding.  Some go kicking and screaming, and some are completely irrational and unwilling to understand.  Obviously, we all score one way or another along that continuum and where we place in there helps us cope with issues that may run counter to our beliefs.

EQ also permits us to temper our behavior and allows us to think before speaking.  We have people who frankly, engage their mouths (or fingers, via the keyboard) before comprehending the ramifications of what it is they are saying.  While the statements they make may have elements of truth, these statements are “their” truth, and should also involve a little thinking about other viewpoints as well before being said.

Those of you who have known me for a long time may be laughing right now.  I admit, I have said my share of things that I have come to regret later.  But as I have gotten older, and hopefully, wiser, I have also brought some life experience and education to the table.  Over the last fifteen years or so I have begun to understand that not only are most issues presented to us with only the surface points showing, there is usually plenty of time to blame and yell later; first I need to dig deeper and get the real story.

I challenge you to read what was said by the expert with an open mind, and ask yourself, is he wrong? Is he right?  But more importantly, ask yourself about your own personal reaction to his statements.  Reluctance to change because a situation is presented differently than the way you think, even in the face of facts that indicate truth, indicate not loyalty or tradition, but stubbornness and ignorance.  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  Get the facts, sort them out, and THEN make a decision to speak.  It’s a whole lot less stressful for you and others who surround you that way.


  • JLM says:

    There are two underlying problems of the evaluation by Stefan Svensson of the U.S FireSerbvice and contrasting it with Europe's. 
    The First: Building construction. Most of Europe's population lives in NEW building built after WWII. Due to the large fire loss after bombing raids, strict fire codes were put in place. Most Single family dwelling are Type three construction with two hour fire wall in all rooms. 
    The second: the overall soceity. In the US if you do something stupid and burn your house down we all hold fund raisers to help you rebuild. Europe: They hit you with steep fine. Make an illegal modification to your house, steep fines, maybe even kick you out of your house untill you pay to have it fixed. If the worst happens and your fire kill or severly injures somebody, they thro you in jail.

  • Dave Statter says:

    As I have said before Mick, we focus on the people and the emotion and fail to see the real issues. It happens in every aspect of our lives and the Internet has made things worse.
    The whole issue of safety in the fire service has come down to personality rather than rational thinking. The smart people with critical thinking who can rise above emotion and hate and take the best of what everyone is saying are harder to find.
    We also only look at the headline and fail to dig into the details. There are a couple of fire service and 9/11 related issues making there way across Facebook right now that attract all of the folks with compulsive outrage disorder (COD was coined by a St. Louis newspaper columist). It doesn't matter what the truth is behind these FB headlines and few will seek out that truth. It is easier to just demonize people based on little fact and a lot of emotion.
    I doubt that the doctor from Sweden is 100% right but I am always interested in anyone who takes the time to challenge our way of thinking on something as important as safety. I admire FRI for putting him on the program. Sorry I missed it.
    Similarly, I was just as interested in hearing Ray McCormack's speech at FRI a few years back.  
    Listening to only what we want to hear and failing to be interested in other viewpoints is making us all a lot more stupid than we should be.
    Thanks for writing this column.

  • Thanks JLM and Dave for commenting;

    In response to JLM, I don't dispute your reasoning, actually.  But I don't necessarily support it either.  

    My points were more about the outrage everyone seems to get (or at least those who have active typing fingers) when someone comes out with any comment that possibly is counter to the American Fire Service.  Not only do we have a lot to share, but we have a lot to learn.  We all need to remain as open-minded as possible when someone makes statements we don't agree with because you know what? Upon further examination, they might be right.  Or they might be wrong.  But we can't just have a knee-jerk reaction and pronounce anyone with a different viewpoint as being an idiot.

    So I encourage anyone reading; listen to what the Dr. has to say and if you have logical reasoning for a different point of view, feel free to present it, as JLM has begun to do.

    And Dave, I missed it too and wished I could have heard it.  But I guess it's just as well that we could stand back and look at the forest.

    Thanks again for reading.

  • Bill Carey says:

    Ray's speech was somewhat reiterated each year by the subsequent keynote speakers, when you see each one in print. Basically each carried the same main ideas, the same jest, but in their own style. Likewise if you look in writing at what Svensson said regarding ventilation and fire behavior, one can see some of the same, if not very close comments made during NIST's wind driven fire studies. I'm not totally in agreement with how Svensson relates LODD numbers, but then again, anyone who knows my own writing and comments knows I don't particularly agree with how we count them ourselves.

    Even if it comes about that 90% of what Svensson claims is of little value to the U.S. firefighter, that remaining 10% might make a bug difference somewhere over here.

    Bill Carey

  • Ed Hartin says:

    An unexamined life is not worth living (Aristottle)
    A key message in Stefan's presentation is that we should ask "why do we do what we do in the way that we do it". While there are a number of differences in the built environment in the United States and Europe, there are also a number of similarities.
    Stefan's presentation emphasized that we should be thoughtful about what we do (not simply following past practice unthinkingly), be fit, understand building construction and fire behavior, drive sensibly (and drive sensible vehicles based on the risks in our communities). Tough to argue with these points!
    It is difficult to hear criticism from inside our own organizations, even more so from someone from a neighboring organization, but much more difficult to hear it from someone from another country. Each nation's fire service does some things well and others not so well. We can learn a great deal from one another!
    As with Stefan's first presentation, I was there and heard what he said. A tough message and a difficult subject. However, regardless of our emotional reaction to his message, the important thing is to ask if we are doing everything that we can do in our own organizations to ensure the safety of both our communities and our members.

  • “Stefan’s presentation emphasized that we should be thoughtful about what we do (not simply following past practice unthinkingly), be fit, understand building construction and fire behavior, drive sensibly (and drive sensible vehicles based on the risks in our communities). Tough to argue with these points!”

    Very well said. If you put it in context, it’s really what some of us have been saying for a long time. It’s not an indictment of firefighting technique, really, it’s an indictment of our ability to be rational and make good choices. And I’m afraid I can’t argue against that.

    As you all have read from me before, I am a proponent of aggressive firefighting. But aggressive firefighting to save a savable life or property is one thing. Throwing my personnel into a hopeless cause is just stupid. And the same thing goes with driving and being fit and everything else. We have a vocal number who ascribe to the notion that making good decisions equates “pussification of the fire service”. I like to dig one out just like the rest of you, and I’m not scared to do the things that need doing, but I also consider myself a good commander and a good commander goes in trying to win, not trying to sacrifice his troops.

    This all, interestingly enough, goes right to the heart of EQ. Fighting battles with emotion instead of logic causes you to underestimate the enemy, to fail to consider the “terrain”, and to jump to action when the timing is poor. Fighting battles emotionally often results in undesirable outcomes.

    Pick your battles, fight using the resources you have wisely, and you will conquer.

  • John,

    Thanks for those links.


  • Nice blog, I like the approach!
    I'm still waiting for some comments on the clips…

  • Stefan,

    I am humbled that you have come to join us here. I have been very busy and unable to comment to cover the points to the extent I’d like, but I see that from what I have seen and heard so far, there will need to be a follow-up post here and I would love to have you comment on it as well.

    The short version: you have excellent points and while some may not agree, until some of these commenters on other sites actually listen to the presentation and not react to some sound bites, they should just keep their opinions to themselves.

    For one, just reading the other sites and the comments, I was given the impression you were approaching the issue by simple observation. I see now you are a brother firefighter who happens to have an education. You know how dangerous an educated firefighter can be. They create all kinds of havoc, upsetting the status quo and all.

    I suggest that if people haven’t seen these, they take a moment and educate themsleves to the actual presentation. If afterwards, you are upset, then state your piece logically. From what I have seen so far, however, we need to listen more and stop telling everyone “how its done”.

    I’ll discuss this in more length later, but in the interim, Stefan, thanks for reading.


  • Thanks!
    If we agree on everything all the time, there will be no progress…
    I follow the discussions on various forums carefully and I'm actually having great fun reading all the comments. But I get a little upset with comments from people who wasn't in the room or yet haven't looked at the clips. Some people doesn't seem to realize that we have Internet all over the world and that a lot of (!) people are watching…
    It was nice to finally find a sensible blog.
    Believe it or not, but we're all on the same side…
    Keep up the good work!

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