My colleague and someone I respect, Dave Statter, happened to share an article today that has a few of you riled up. The article was in regard to information that three of the deceased firefighters from the West, Texas tragedy, had the presence of alcohol or marijuana in their systems when they perished. Some of the comments on his page have me trying to figure out how Dave ends up being the bad guy for sharing the truth, not just about this event, but others. Maybe a little truth and reality is what is needed in the fire service right now. There are a number of us telling you all the truth and you simply don't want to hear it.
Before I start in on "the truth", let me say that I am certainly conflicted over this report. I don't for a minute condone response with the possibility of drugs or alcohol being found in your system. That said, the people of West, and especially the firefighters, all knew what would happen if a fire got out of control at that particular occupancy. I don't know that if I were sitting around, having had a few beers, if knowing that our community's worst possible case scenario was unfolding that I could have restrained myself. Would it be the right thing to stay away? Would it be the right thing to go? I wasn't there. I'm not going to judge.
On another hand, save those of us on scene the agony of having to tell you to leave if you have been engaged in that kind of activity. We don't have time to tell you to leave. We don't want to fight with you. And as you can see in this case, we all know the consequences if something bad happens and they find you have amounts of stuff on board. You may feel like you can help, but even if you were just to sprain your knee, if the chemicals are found in your system, it's going to definitely muddy the waters for you or your family to get the benefits they need.
So let's go back to Dave's situation. I guess this is the culmination of a number of events where our community of fire and emergency response personnel have a few bad apples, someone speaks the truth, and THEY get labeled as "the problem". The problem isn't with those of us trying to return the fire service to the rightful place in society, as a profession considered admirable by people. The problem is with those of you who think this is a game and act like a bunch of teenage amateurs. It's looking like it might be time for some of you to grow the fuck up.
Career or volunteer, we wear the badge of firefighter proudly for a reason. We have this passion for the job that transcends other jobs. We have a history, a tradition of service, valor, honor, and integrity. When someone damages that tradition, those of us who take the job seriously get a little bent out of shape. I have four generations behind my spot in line, all of whom were staunch advocates of those values. When some mutt comes along and does something stupid, there are a number of us who would like to take them behind the woodshed for some reality time. All Dave and a number of us do, like it or not, is illustrate the problem and ask that you fix it.
I'll tell you like I tell a lot of people. If you don't want to end up with a negative article about you in the paper, then perhaps you should ensure that anything someone has to say about you will be positive. When we have individuals in our midst that do screwed up things, then guess what? You get screwed up articles. Maybe instead of attacking the messenger, we need to have candid conversation about the message. I have had a few to drink before and got the call. I'm not going to be a hypocrite. When I was young, I felt differently. I thought I needed to be there. I felt like I was letting my brothers down if I wasn't there. I felt like they needed me.
Now that I am a little wiser, I realize what a stupid belief that was. I wish someone had this conversation with me then. All it takes is one unplanned-for outcome and the next thing you know, you are the scourge of the community. And worse, what if something YOU do causes injury to someone else. Just consider if you were, say, operating the ladder from the turntable. Pretty safe position to be in, huh? Then the ladder has a malfunction. It doesn't matter what you say, or how bad the product was defective, if you have any influencing substance in your bloodstream, all fingers are going to be pointing at you. And if someone is injured or dies as a result of the incident, that will follow you for the rest of your life.
This isn't commentary about imbibing on the job, or off the job. That's incidental to the subject, because like I said, save us the grief and don't do it. But to say someone is constantly negative about our profession would only be fair if they were making up the story. He's just reporting the news. If you don't want to believe it, that's your prerogative. But those of us who are trying to make this job a better place, well, we need to see where the problems are so we can fix them. And if you don't like it, well, maybe you don't have the service's best interests at heart.
Also on Firehouse Zen …
- Added Value – August 5, 2013
- Your Altruism Is Hereby Noted – January 28, 2013
- The Important Part To Consider – July 29, 2012
- Mourning The Loss of Free Speech, Ham-Handed Chiefs, and How We Got Here – November 16, 2012