We are all aware that the rhetoric right now is at a flashpoint. It's not an issue of conservatism or liberalism, it's an attitude that it is considered permissible to make inflammatory statements – often sweeping, generalistic assumptions – about others that very often border on the lunatic fringe. The tone expressed so often readily embraces this "us against them" mentality that has people choosing sides, whether or not there are even sides to choose.
It just so happens that I was reading the oft-commented-upon (and it seems often-trolled) Dave Statter site, specifically the recent car fire video. I was thinking; I watched the same video as the rest of these individuals and honestly, I didn't see anything going on that required so much debate. The comments from the "real" firemen were especially poignant, with all kinds of dubious tactical advice and criticism, and there were even a few on Facebook with similar "I could do this better with my eyes closed" comments.
Let me distill it into Dr. Seuss level logic:
There is a car fire. The car is in a trailer. The trailer is attached to a truck. The trailer is in the middle of an intersection. There is nobody in the trailer. There is nobody on the trailer. There is nobody near the trailer. There are no buildings near the trailer. If the car was not already a total loss, it wouldn't be long before it was. Despite all the yelling, this was a high-priced dumpster fire, in more ways than one.
There was nothing inside or near the fire to warrant risking firefighters' lives to get in and rub up against it. The reaction to the firefighting tactics, however, were a total dumpster fire in and of themselves, as defined in the Urban Dictionary:
1. A complete disaster.
2. Something difficult that nobody wants to deal with.
3. Slightly better than a train wreck.
On mornings like these, when I read those kinds of comments, I am amazed that people who consider themselves firefighters would even bother to comment. But then I read the comments and think, maybe it is simply projection. Maybe these people WANT to believe they are firefighters, so much so that they would willingly imagine that they are so brave and courageous that they would go in and get after the Red Beast. I'm thinking these are the same ones who think Backdraft was a realistic portrayal of firehouse life. You know, the same guys with the "I fight what you fear" t-shirts and bumper stickers.
I reflect often on the culture some of us have created in places that are receptive to it. It's a quiet professionalism, not calling attention to one's self, but a reality of doing the job, being aggressive, being tough, but not having to brag about it. A culture that will gladly dig it out and get dirty if it is required, but isn't so gung ho that they have to roll around in the soot to prove their manhood, because really, that's what it is. A culture that will demonstrate the core values and heritage of firefighting by rescuing a victim and risk their life without hesitation to do that, but knows better than to crawl into a well-off building fire where there is no chance for victim survival.
There are plenty of individuals out there who should be given credit for inciting piss-poor performance, but we don't have to buy into it. It really is possible to mount an "aggressive" attack and not be stupid about it. Contrary to some of the opinions, being safe doesn't equal being a "pussy". It doesn't classify a soldier as "more valiant" to stand up in front of a machine gun nest with no purpose, it classifies you as suicidal. Ask any experienced warfighter and they'll tell you that real valor is gutting it out and rushing that machine gun nest at the right moment, where they can exert the most power in the fastest time. It doesn't make you more of a hero to stand up and run into that burning trailer, it just makes you stupid.
The only person that can right this path is you. If we participate responsibly in dialogue, avoid being dismissive of alternate views, and accept that we can learn from anyone, we can be the better for it. We must together demonstrate leadership among our peers by refusing to engage in the rhetoric, no matter how tempting it is sometimes. We all tell our kids it's not right to just go along with the crowd to look cool, especially if it is wrong, and as adults, when we fail to resist this pull, we are doing the same thing ourselves. And the part that we don't seem to tell our children is that yes, it is sometimes dangerous to step away from the pack to be the lead, it is a demonstration of true leadership to know the difference between right and wrong. If you don't want to set yourself away from the pack by speaking out against such conduct, the least you can do is just not engage in it yourselves.
Promote the right decisions for the right moments. Valor in the face of a hairy rescue, I can applaud. Bravery in fighting a car fire, not so much. Don't be a whacker, be a real firefighter and act like it. This fire wasn't going anywhere, so act like you have been to a real fire before and quit the preening. Most of us aren't impressed. The ones who are probably don't know anything about fighting a real fire anyway.
Also on Firehouse Zen …
- Before You Go – Resolving Intractable Conflict – September 6, 2013
- If You Want To Be Treated With Respect, Look The Part – July 19, 2012
- Truth: Let’s Find The Scapegoat – August 9, 2013
- Reminding You of Why We Are Here – April 15, 2013