We were talking last night on the Weekly Firefighter Hangout about “words that we live by” in the fire service and I was a little surprised not to hear anyone bring up the usual complaints on NFPA and other consensus standards, which seem to get thrown into a big steaming pile together when someone wants to badmouth the fire service. As a participant in the standards process, I get a little frustrated when people complain about standards. Why, you may ask? Well, because while standards may seem to be prohibiting aspects of our jobs, the fact is, standards are necessary to help us define things, to establish our expectations in regard to a certain item, title, or discipline.
In the eyes of some, standards are written to justify large quantities of money being spent to put labels on items. Or standards are written to justify adding unnecessary personnel to apparatus. The real reason most standards are written are to have a yardstick that we can have some objective measurement of a qualification, a product, or a process. If we did not have standards, you might buy a snowplow online and have the item pictured here delivered to you instead.
Individuals in the fire service complain about standards as if these are memos sent from on high by those who have no idea what the job is all about. In fact, the standards are actually written by those who have a vested interest in the job. People like you and I are invited to come sit on committees and working groups to help define these standards, and the committees go to great lengths to ensure balance between users, enforcers, manufacturers, educators, and any other number of interest groups, to act as a check and balance to the accusations that the only people writing standards are those making a buck in the effort.
In our organization I find a lot less complaining about this standard or that standard mostly because we decided a long time ago that if we wanted to see things done a certain way, we would need to get involved in the process. Unlike many people, it seems, our personnel realize that standards get built by people just like them, and from the lowest person on the totem pole to the Chief, anyone has the ability to chime in on drafts of each standard.
The people who tend to complain the most about standards, it appears to me, are the ones we are most likely writing standards to protect our members against. After all, if you are so obtuse as to not understand how a standard comes to be used in the first place, you probably shouldn’t be leading personnel anyway. I see it as the difference between those who say they are professionals and those who actually are.
When you are a child playing in little league football, it’s okay if you don’t know the rules of the game. There are plenty of parents, coaches, refs and others who will loudly point out that you are running the wrong way. When you are an adult and considered to be professional, if you don’t know the rules of the game, you probably should find a different career, if anyone would even take the time to hire you at all.
I’m aware this is going to ruffle some feathers, but you may also be aware that I don’t care if it does. After all, the process is pretty simple and if you can’t take the time to read the proposed standards and comment on them if you don’t like something, then really, why should I care if you don’t like them? And even if something slips by me, if I see a standard that I think is particularly egregious, there is a process to also fight that as well, even if it is committed to writing and had been published. Don’t think that the committees are flawless; my own committee has missed things before, requiring us to seek the various fixes that exist, depending on the severity of the mistake.
If all you can do is complain and never work toward a positive solution, you are simply another voice on the sideline. If you want to be in the game and be a real contributor to the fire service, you need to learn how to play the game.