We here at Firehouse Zen (that would be me) believe not necessarily in criticism but in critical thinking. This is the part where some of you should probably go ahead and sign off the page. Like I said, our motto is "Brain food for Mongo", not "Whacker pictures and what's the color of your helmet?" We dare to ask the question here, "What are we really supposed to be doing?"
So the title, of course, was meant to lure you in. The title is also, in case you didn't know, the last statement often made by the male of the species prior to a gruesome fatality. In the realm of human nature, there is that section in which people feel compelled to do things, maybe not because they are the right things, or even sane things, but because they are on camera. The rationale is that there are those who do things that are unwise not necessarily because they think it is appropriate, but instead because they want attention.
Of course, not all of these individuals are clever either. They fail to understand the entire equation. Not only are they, perhaps, ignorant in the use of logic, but also in the realm of the physical sciences where they think that the things they do may not bounce back with totally catastrophic consequences. And of course, some of what they do is simply an act of mimicking other more astute individuals who have been there, done that, and have some real experience in the issues.
Take, for examples, two videos I wish to share with you: One, featured on FireRescue1.com is from a while back, where some of the firies there drove their rig through very high water, which of course, was being filmed. Just review the video and save your comments for later, please.
The next video, then, is from my friend and colleague Dave Statter, in which he shared a video taken of a truck company in Baltimore City, operating first due at a row home fire.
Let me begin by stating that in both of these videos, the actions these people took could very well get you killed. In fact, I’m not sure that I should be calling attention to them at all. However, there is a reason I want to share these and it is because context is very important in the processing of any information and the haters, trolls, and otherwise angry commenters fail to understand that regardless of whether a good or a bad choice is made in any situation, context is something that must frame the discussion.
So now that I have either inflamed you for critiquing brothers taking risks, or inflamed you because I dared show these videos with questionable practices, maybe it is time for dialogue as to what it is we do, why do we do it, and just how much are we expected to risk to a populace with questionable support for our endeavors.
Having not been there in either situation, I keep saying over and over (to the choir, I understand. Idiots don’t normally read my blog), that before we go poking holes in either of the strategies employed by our brothers in these videos, let's say that unless you are walking in those shoes, you are being given the opportunity to learn, but not to judge. We can see what is going on, but our context is limited. We don't know what has gone on before, or what experience these individuals have had. Some of the things that are being done are admittedly questionable, but it begs to question the existence of accepted culture in that environment, and what is truly considered "risky" as compared to what is considered "all in a day's work".
Experience provides strong context for how things are done. The brothers in Australia, for example: look at the picture assoicated with this article (up top). You’ll note something that a few Aussies have on their cars that we in America don’t: snorkels. This is because people for years thought nothing of driving their cars through flood waters, and they get a lot of floods. It is accepted culture in Australia to drive through flooded areas because there aren’t bridges in some places where you must travel. Obviously this idea is considered an accepted practice in your Holden Jackaroo (I used to own the American version- the Isuzu Trooper) when you were going to your place in the Hinterlands or toward the Outback. Just like in America, though, plenty of people in the urbanized coastal areas have these on their cars and wouldn’t have been off-road ever. But when I was there, I asked. And I went through a few places where this was essential. Driving through a flood, despite the warnings, is not as culturally significant as it is here in the States.
Likewise, we have our “truckie to the roof” in good ol’ Balto. Again, context. I have been fighting fires for years. I have fought fires in a lot of different types of buildings. But I have never been a seasoned veteran on a busy truck company in a gritty, urban setting. This guy has probably been on one or two roofs before. He looks like he knows what he is doing. Culturally, in his organization, I’m guessing they are okay with it. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m saying that he doesn’t feel an overwhelming pressure that he is wrong. He may not have any close friends who have gone through roofs before. He may not really care. But he has a job to do, he does it, and he lives through it.
In both of these instances, there is a lot of context that you don’t pick up by watching a video. There is also perhaps, experience that we don’t allow for that provides more context. And this is important: I am not saying that these actions are right. I am saying that the lesson should be, “What lessons did we learn?” Did we now reinforce this behavior by nodding to ourselves and saying, “Wow! That was cool! Not very safe, but cool!” If you had been standing next to me when I watched them for the first time, you’d have heard that. I happen to think what they did was pretty amazing. Unfortunately, I also have to view it as a chief officer and a father and a leader with an appreciation for the balance of risk and reward, and I ask, what were the rewards in either of the cases?
I don’t need to go into the whys and wherefores of these two videos. Every Keyboard Firefighter out there has second-guessed them to death. Anyone with an understanding of the things that can go wrong can take one look at them and say, “Don’t do that. Or that. Or that.” What worries me are those out there who defend it to the hilt, and say they have been doing it this way for years, and you all don’t know the job, and you are gutless, etc. The reason it worries me is not because they have any traction with me: they are dinosaurs, plain and simple. I worry because I have the background and the experience to make an informed decision. There are a lot of impressionable, not-so-experienced firefighters, working in suburban departments where the construction hasn’t lasted through a decade, much less 100 years of tenement decay. They are doing a job where they may get another engine in eight minutes, but in the city, because there are four truck companies and four engines operating on your fire as well, you have a little backup if things go to shit.
Experience does not equal competency. Experience is simply experience. It’s what you do with the experience, coupled with knowledge, and enhanced by skills, that creates competency. The difference is that instead of saying “that was a bad decision”, we should be saying, “Why did you do that?” If the reason was simply because that’s the way we always have done it, then we should be looking at how to change that. If we did it because it satisfies our inner He-Man, then we need to quit the theatrics and do the job right.
Be professional. The difference between a stunt man and Jackass is that stunt men are cool, calm professionals who study the art of doing dangerous things. And Jackass is amateur hour. Firefighting is the same way. And while you may gain amusement from Jackass, I’m sure you aren’t running out to try that stuff on yourself. Likewise, when you see “stunts’” that amuse, but don’t seem to be a good idea, you understand that you should stick to best practices. And if you don’t realize that, you probably need to consider a change.