Over the next three weeks we are going to talk about the dynamics of intractable conflict. The important part is that in order to solve problems, we first have to understand the perspectives of the participants, and while that may be uncomfortable for some people, there are some realities that have to be considered. One of the first steps in solving a problem is recognizing you have one.
Unfortunately, even organizations that seem like they are running like well-oiled machines may have their foundations eroding beneath them. What exacerbates the problem is that each individual involved brings their own baggage to the table, regardless of whether it is deserved or not. If you are in a position of negotiating peace between warring factions, zealotry is not going to do anything except maintain a barrier to trust.
Our organizations can be considered dysfunctional if they have unresolved problems and a lack of cooperation to solve them. These can be broken down into a few areas of concern, principally, by the way we (that is, those of us in the organization) act toward each other, the way we do the things we do, and the way we think about our challenges.
The way in which we act toward each other is based in our relationships. Dysfunctional organizations may find that they have “warring factions”. These can be understood as tension between sub-groups and teams, but not in a healthy manner. In a less benign setting there may be lack of transparency, or direction may be ambiguous. Sometimes this manifests itself as a multi-class culture, where “those who rule make the rules” and many times, those rules are made in a vacuum. The relationships can devolve to the point where a hostile workplace is present.
Our processes may be flawed. We may experience broken behavior-consequence chains: promoting people who are screw-ups or suck-ups, individuals “win” through intimidation rather than through merit, or poor performance is tolerated. Our decisions may be made at the highest level due to micromanagement or conversely, because individuals fail to take responsibility for their own roles in the problem. Sub-optimization is another symptom of dysfunction, as one group farms work to another group, and the ship may be sinking but so long as it “isn’t on my watch”, people are okay with the way things are deteriorating.
And of course, the way we approach our challenges, in how we gather and prioritize information and assign value to it may also be a problem. Segmented norms can be found sometimes, in that we state that our values are important, until “they aren’t”, such as saying “We value our employees” but turn right around and cut benefits as a cost-saving measure. Or here’s one that applies: firefighters saying “We are here to protect the community effectively” and really, they could care less about protecting the community effectively, as they would much rather be fighting fires and they fail to realize there are other aspects of protecting the community, like say, providing emergency medical services.
Organizations that deal with their problems by attributing indirect cause to “how we got here” are simply sticking their head in the sand and hoping the problems go away. Saying “things happen” does nothing to solve the problem. We have to get to the root of the problem and consider that our approach may be wrong. If we fail to do this, we will continue to experience the same problems over and over again.
If you see these symptoms in your organization, we may very well have dysfunction, but trust me when I tell you that there is a very wide range of dysfunction; some organizations can truly be functionally dysfunctional, if that makes any sense. Some organizations, however, are so bad that we can’t even begin to comprehend how something catastrophic hasn’t occurred yet. And some have that event and yet continue on to heap another disaster upon another disaster, until finally reaching critical mass. You may know of a few of these.
Tomorrow we are going to begin to discuss the psychology of intractability as we move toward what constitutes toxic relationships.
If you haven't seen the latest fiasco in the media quest for expediency over accuracy, Dave Statter has been sharing it here. I understand it but I don't agree with it. There is a lot of pressure in reporting to be the first one out of the blocks, thus one of the primary reasons Firehouse Zen doesn't compete with such worthy emergency service news blogs like Dave's, or FireGeezer, or Fire Daily. First off, it is a lot of work, and I already have a lot of work. This is supposed to be an endeavor of discovery for me, not a race. Secondly, I have a need to research things deeply and sometimes I get bogged down in that research, and that's more about what this post discusses.
I'm in the middle of completing another degree through Columbia Southern University, as some of you know. While I just said that, I'm not getting paid to do so. I'm pretty sure given what I am about to say they wouldn't necessarily want me as a shill. But I digress; I have really enjoyed the classes so far and the work I am doing has been pertinent so far. But go back to what I said earlier and here's the catch; I get sidetracked.
I'm not a very good reporter, as you can see. I see a tangent and I take it. My educational record is riddled with these side roads into oblivion. I start reading something about, in the most recent case, Zachary Taylor's campaigns in the Mexican-American War, and the next thing you know I have signed up on a listserv for Military History e-mails on World War II. The internet is a horrible, horrible thing – all those embedded links just serve as a detour for me and cause me to peek through another door, only to find myself discussing subject matter that had nothing to do at all with where I began.
But lest you think I have done the very same thing here (remember, we started off with a discussion on media accuracy), I also have a talent for turning what I learned about something else into useful information and bringing it back around. Like here, where I tell you that while this trait (distractedness) is not entirely good, it isn't entirely bad either. Why? Well, because it allows you to examine the entire argument.
There is a sincere need in reporting to get the whole story. And while this prank in San Francisco is horribly wrong, it really is a pretty fluky thing, when you consider a media outlet has to get it right, balance it with their message, vet it, and distribute it. Information is just information prior to analysis; after analysis it becomes intelligence. The problem is that in the haste to be first, there is a conflict in that anyone telling a story needs to confirm accuracy, and sometimes that process goes out the window. That, my friends, is the subtle difference between "reporting" and "rumormongering" (Is that a verb? If not, I just made it one).
Any idiot who can read a teleprompter can "report" these days. Anybody can find a source, quote their side of the story, and present it as news. Just turn on Fox News or MSNBC to see what I mean. This isn't news, this is opinion and in some cases, badly reasoned opinion on top of it. There is not an emphasis on the people who report the news actually knowing what the news is and frankly, they can get away with it because an overwhelming majority of the viewers (because nobody reads anymore, what are you, a dork?) don't bother to understand the facts either. They take what piss-poor bullet point was made by the talking heads and treat it as Gospel.
There isn't a desire to understand the background or appreciate the perspectives. When we wonder why there is so much divisiveness and rudeness in the world, it is clearly because we fail to comprehend that there is more to the story. We are in such a hurry to get it first that sometimes we fail to get it right (didn't I tell you we'd be back here?).
Break out from the norm. Leadership isn't easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. Consider the perspectives. Read into the story. Seek out opposing viewpoints. Clarify your own understanding of the problems. But to parrot what anyone tells us and accept it as truth doesn't facilitate learning. It proves you can read a prepared statement from someone whose agenda it is to convince you that their story is the one that matters. Hell, for all you know, I may even be full of shit. Resist the urge to march in lockstep and develop your own perspective, remembering that you only see it from one side and there are many you can't see yet. Sometimes it's okay to take a different path, but make sure it is the path that actually gets you where you want to be.
Why, you may ask, are we discussing Paula Deen's recent situation on Firehouse Zen? Well, we are discussing it because it is appropriate to leading and change management; because hers is a contemporary and widely understood case study; and because it follows up somewhat on my last posts, I'm Telling You, Don't Go There… and Stand Up Against The Bullies.
While the Internet has so many redeeming qualities, the downside that you are all aware of is the lightning-fast way in which conflict can escalate, simply because of our ability to allow emotion to over-ride sensibility. We talk about it all the time on here because in my observation, it is one of the most pressing problems in society today. This hypersensitivity to what is said or seen is reflected in our politics, our views on current issues, and in our interaction with others.
My usual disclaimer applies: I have seen both sides of the issue, therefore, I consider myself able to discuss it rationally. I think that the platform of the Internet provides anonymity which is beneficial when you have a genuine fear of persecution and have something beneficial to say. However, that anonymity is abused when used to advance attacks with no foundation, or out of context.
This is no rant, it is an observation of the realities. No matter what is said later, as has been expressed ad nauseam, the perception of what has been said will continue to follow you, especially in the age of the Internet. As Dave Statter, Curt Varone, and other respected internet subject matter experts will tell you though, how you handle it can mean the difference between the future being smooth or the future being your path to irrelevance. I seem to believe that while Ms. Deen's use of certain language was unfortunate, I don't know her or what is in her heart, so I have no basis in which to judge her. I think that others should use the same criteria when deciding whether she is genuine or not. But the idea that by watching her on TV equates to your ability to weigh in on whether is is or not is ridiculous, as it is an opinion based on what little bit you know of her.
Using a comparison with Martha Stewart's situation a number of years ago, while Stewart was widely popular, her brand was mainly associated with television, and when she spent some time in jail, it affected her brand's upward momentum. This being said, her situation was not exacerbated by any other drama and while her brand may not hold the power it once had, she certainly isn't hurting. Social media at that point was relatively limited and while I don't have figures available, I'd bet that social media saturation was probably below 50% of her demographic, if not substantially lower. Regardless, what kind of engagement did people have with her then? Other than watching her television show or buying (or not buying) her products, I would speculate we had little to no interaction with her. And while I will admit to watching her show (hey, she had some pretty good ideas), I will also admit to being very disappointed with her, which is interesting when I reflect on it. On what basis did I have any justification for being disappointed in her? Based on what media tells me? On the opinions of a few talking heads?
Conversely, Paula Deen's recent exposure to negative publicity is in a day where more than 71% of ALL WOMEN have a social media account. This is pretty amazing when you realize I am looking at an extremely wide interpretation of her demographic, literally just "women", not even using age brackets. When you break it down, it actually reveals that the only age bracket that saw an increase in social media usage happens to be her target demographic (30-49 year old women), which increased from 71% to 77% in 2012. Therefore, when I said "lightning-fast" earlier, I wasn't kidding. Less than an hour into the "breaking news" that the Food Network let Deen go, there were 5,356 posts to the Food Network Facebook page in response. What's more, they were reported by Huffington Post as being overwhelmingly in support of Paula Deen, which goes to show you that even in situations where something is perceived to be a negative, it really depends on your perspective. I would suggest a lot of that has to do with your emotions toward the subject. Again, while I can admit some bias in Paula Deen's favor, I would suggest that given my own very limited exposure to her through second-hand engagement, it has been shared with me that she is a very genuine and down-to-earth person.
Is that relationship because of her proximity to my area (she happens to live in the Savannah area)? Or because of my relationship to people who have first-hand knowledge of her personality? Or is it because she has a very wide level of engagement with her "followers"? Regardless of all of that, she was pretty quick to own her situation and that may also benefit her in the long run.
In this comparison, I would speculate that Martha Stewart lost more support because of her perceived aloofness and where critics described her as elitist and cold. Paula Deen is widely held as warm, supportive, and "down-home", which likely endears her to followers. Social media plays into this because while conventional media fails to establish a "relationship" with viewers, social media, by its nature, is all about engagement and relationships. If there is a quick lesson to be learned here it is that by establishing these relationships, it helps you in the event you do have some negative publicity come your way. This is, however, a subject matter to discuss at a later time (note to self).
How does this figure into our discussion? Regardless of your stance on her transgressions, Martha Stewart's situation hit a high mark and never really rebounded with overwhelming public support. While the jury is still literally out on the Paula Deen situation, from my observation, there is a certain amount of rhetoric going back and forth already in real-time, facilitated by this ability to speak emotionally rather than logically, with people saying what is on their minds without consideration for the facts. In fact, what is very interesting to me is that the trial in which Deen is involved in isn't even about her, except by association; the person who has been implicated is her brother and she and everyone else in her sphere of influence is now exposed the controversy.
With the ability to make these comments, we have to realize that what we have is an extraordinary amount of power to influence and like I say repeatedly, we have to consider the affect those comments have on others. I equate it to the concept of total war as expressed by Clausewitz: total war is engaged when all efforts at changing the ways of another (to your benefit, which may not be what is best for society) through negotiation are exhausted. Therefore, when engaging another party in total war, we have to consider the outcomes are going to radically change everyone involved, not just the protagonists but the antagonists. I suggest that it is the equivalent of total war because it is. Once you put it on the Internet, it is indelible and it is wide-reaching. You may be able to delete something from your "timeline", but that doesn't remove it from circulation, so one must seriously consider what is being said versus how that information will be translated into use, for or against your cause.
If we fail to appreciate the conflict from either side, not only do we miss out on an opportunity to understand others, but we do our own ideas injustice because we don't hold them up to the scrutiny of validating them. Just because we say something doesn't make it right, and there have been a sufficient number of occasions in which I have said something, only to be shown later that another perspective was more accurate. Had I taken more time to look the total equation over, I might have done a better job of defending my side or even better, seeing the forest and the trees.
I have a lot more to reflect upon using this scenario, but I wanted to take a time-out and start some discussion on the challenge. What benefit do you see in the ability to just shoot out what you have to say without consideration for the effect it will have on others? Does it feel good to just say what you want and then later be shown how insensitive or inconsiderate your approach was? (I find it embarrassing, personally). But maybe you have a better perspective on it that I am not seeing, like a therapeutic value in just getting what is on your chest off it. I don't know, it just seems to me that the wiser and more mature course of action, not that I employ it myself as often as I should, would be to step back and look at the entire situation before shooting off my mouth.
Please share your thoughts with me and the rest of the readers. I think this is pretty pertinent stuff as it relates to conflict and might help us all to understand the phenomenon for what it is. Thanks for reading.
Okay, you can stop giggling over the fire at Columbia (SC)'s Headquarters station now, seeing as it has been trumpeted all over every news wire imaginable and I'm sure these guys were sick of it the minute they heard a box struck for their own house. And then, of course, there are the twenty-plus know-it-alls who have to comment on the article, and since I haven't even followed it on the fire sites, probably another hundred or so wackers who think something like that would NEVER happen in their station.
Chief Aubrey Jenkins said what needed to be said: "A fire can happen anywhere, and a fire station is not immune". I know he was probably dying inside, but what he said is the truth. Sometimes things go wrong and we just don't have a good explanation. Thankfully, their department had the foresight to install fire sprinklers and the damages were relatively limited. And as Chief Jenkins also was able to illustrate, this does provide a great case for fire sprinklers.
The guys at Columbia are good brothers and I'm sure that whatever anyone could to him in the way of discipline, if at all, would never compare to the stigma that this guy is going to carry for a long time around the house.
We have to be really careful that the ever-spinning wheel of Karma doesn't roll in our direction when we are criticizing, because let's be honest, this could happen to any of us. Thus the lesson in my post today, that while today you may be feeling all smug and self-righteous and willing to judge some poor schmuck at the CFD, tomorrow could find you in a similar situation, and I'll bet you'll want a shitload of understanding when it happens.
Just as people living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and Jesus counseled that the first among us without sin could cast the first stone, there always seems like a lot of people out there are incapable of considering that tomorrow could be your big day in the news, and you'd better hope it is for good reasons, and not for something like this. I would really hate to be the one to deliver a big fat "I told you so."
In every instance of something being reported, there are a dozen people who are outraged by it. Why are you so quick to judge? What is the need to pipe up with some witty comment on what a jerk so-and-so is, or how someone doesn't have gloves on, or that a firefighter who makes a mistake is incompetent? Just because you weighed in with your two cents, what qualifies you to be judge, jury and executioner?
We all make mistakes. For some of us, because of who we are and where we sit in the food chain, the mistakes may be more visible, but they happen. I'm certainly not perfect. Before we go shouting our rage from the rooftops, we need to step back and realize the situation often for what it is; a miscalculation, a misinterpretation, a failure to see something. We all err from time to time and instead of being the first one to shoot, maybe we need to be the first to offer our hand and ask what we can do to help.
I have been doing a little research lately and happened to re-read the theories of crew resource management and just leadership, as championed by Paul LeSage. I wholeheartedly agree with these ideas, especially as I really do understand most errors or "accidents" occur not because of some conspiracy or intentional act, but because a number of factors happen to align and when they do, at that given moment, disaster (or near-disaster) occurs.
In understanding those theories, however, I still harbor serious concerns when individuals with the responsibility to protect the vulnerable underestimate risk and disaster comes calling. There may not necessarily be overt disregard for risk, but that shouldn't be a comfort to those whose job it was to educate the public and plan for disaster. In fact, I hope they stay awake every night realizing how badly they fail those who entrusted them.
So while the fingers started pointing the minute the dust cleared in West, Texas, I am afraid that the same people who will be held accountable will not necessarily be the ones who should actually be held accountable. I have no doubt there will be frank discussion and hurt feelings, but let's not let the buck stop at the fire department or the fire chief.
I don't know the story of how this all went about over the years in West but I can make some pretty tangible observations. There are federal laws that compel companies to disclose the presence of hazardous materials in the community. These laws and regulations have been around since the 1980's. Anyone who says they are unaware of them, especially in the chemical storage and manufacturing industry, is, to be blunt, full of shit. Anyone at the command level in the emergency response community who says they don't know about these laws and regulations, is similarly, full of shit, or has no business being in that position of responsibility. So to begin with, nobody should be pleading ignorance of the law, not that anyone is.
Likewise, if you are an elected official in a community with this kind of industry, if you have not been educated on the laws, then your fire chief hasn't been doing his or her job. If you have not had a budget sent before you to account for the planning, training, equipping, staffing, and enforcement of dealing with this type of hazard, your fire chief has not been doing his or her job. And on top of that, if you have industry like this in your community and you don't have a local emergency preparedness committee, your fire chief hasn't been doing his or her job. And again, I don't know this to be the case here, but it is simply something to consider.
The fire chief, however, is likely not culpable because I would bet that in most cases, the fire chief HAS done these things. Given the nature of things, I would bet they HAVE tried to educate their governing body; they HAVE tried to budget for these situations; and they HAVE tried to form and work with an LEPC. But what I hear often is that the city fathers, the business people, and other interested parties shout down the increase in taxes to support these mandates. They fail to approve the budgets to support planning and preparedness. They don't support inspections of premises, they don't encourage planning, they resist any efforts of enforcement, and they complain about the "heavy hand" of government regulation. And if you are a fire chief walking in with some doomsday scenario of a fertilizer explosion blowing up half the town, you are called Chicken Little and told to stop making mountains out of molehills.
Then something goes wrong and everyone wants to hang someone.
If you have hazards in your community and don't plan for them, expect that when those hazards become real problems, someone is going to be pointing a finger right at you and your organization. Never mind that when you brought the subject up you were not allocated the necessary resources, if you have a forest fire that damages homes you will be the fall guy. If you have a chemical leak, you will be the scapegoat. And if something explodes in your jurisdiction, be sure someone will be asking for all your plans, your training records, your inspections, and anything else, looking to hang this one on you.
Anyone in the business of emergency response should be uncomfortable right now. It is clear and incontrovertible fact that in so many communities, we have a known risk and a convenient collective ignorance rolling all the way from the fire department to the taxpayers. In this age of cut and slash budgeting by municipal governments, I hear a lot of big talk about how preparing for certain risks is just not cost efficient or wise. But when that bird comes back to roost, it's a little too late to be pinning that blame on the people who informed you of the risk and asked for resources to manage it, yet were denied because the odds of such an event might have seemed astronomical.
Who then is going to swing because something went wrong? Let's just be real about it once and for all. Let's just say what it is out loud. When we know a hazard exists, it is our duty to plan for how we are going to handle it. If I take a budget to adequately prepare for a probable event in my jurisdiction and I am given no resources to do the job, the plan may be something as short and sweet as "run", but we had better have that plan in the books. Furthermore, if that is indeed, the plan, it is incumbent upon us as leaders and planners to educate the affected parties of the situation: we identified the risk, we asked for the resources to adequately plan, we were not given the resources, and the result is that there is unmitigated risk. In light of this, when there is a fire in the suspect facility, we are going to order you all to the fallout shelter and ask you to stay down until the debris stops falling.
I am not an attorney, but I know this much. When we have a duty to act and a breach of that duty occurs, and that breach of duty results in an event, and that event causes injury, that adds up to negligence. We may not be able to handle everything that comes our way, but we need to have a plan for what we are going to do, regardless, and make sure everyone knows what the plan is. If we communicate that effectively, we have done our job. But if we do that and the community assumes the risk to be negligible, then we have at least done our duty and can go to sleep a little better, knowing that at least we tried to do what we were expected to do.
As my family and friends will tell you, even being one of the most connected guys on the planet does not result in timely birthday wishes to your loved ones. I think it has more to do with the many spinning plates I have going rather than indifference or the constant pleading of alarms I set to remind me. Regardless, it happens. I like to think that it is one of my many endearing but frustrating qualities.
So my belated 40th birthday wishes to the job-changing America Burning report comes as no surprise six days later (I wrote this Saturday morning for my usual Monday posting). America Burning should be mandatory reading for all firefighters. The report painted a picture of the fire problem in the United States at that time. Some of the changes that came about as a result of its influence were the creation of the United Sates Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy and the nationwide push for smoke detectors, as well as more aggressive fire prevention efforts directed toward children.
Chief Glenn Gaines, in his Mutual Aid blog post How is America Burning 40 Years Later? reflected the other day on what this meant in our battle. We were up against increased numbers of fire fatalities and fire loss compared to other industrialized nations. In the 70's, our cities were burning. Our rural areas were burning. Fire death and injury, compounded with fire loss, was significant.
My brother and I read this book when it first came out. Understand that I was nine and he was eight then, and this is NOT light reading material. But when my father, who left it sitting around, caught us reading it, he turned to page 10 (the picture of "Susan"). Pointing at the picture, he bluntly told us, "This is what happens when you play with fire."
At the time, the fire death rate for children under five was three times that of the rest of the population. The picture on page 15, a smoky silhouette of a child who died from inhalation of smoke and toxic gases, illustrated a heart-breaking reality: our most vulnerable didn't even stand a chance unless we could warn them of the danger. The fire service leaders of that time realized we had to elevate our efforts to engage this problem.
Many of you weren't even alive when this report hit the stations (maybe even some of your parents weren't either), but it was a very graphic expose of what we faced. Another book from that time, Dennis Smith's Report From Engine Co. 82, gave an account of the job as it existed while our ghettos were burning. This book may have inspired more of us to become firefighters than America Burning, just as Emergency did via television, but the reason why is because of a lot of the same issues we face today. Fighting fire suits us; we are brave, macho, sardonic souls who see a burning building and snort "Just another job." And we take care of business like it is another day at the office. The suits and sheep see us as Gods among mere mortals. Kids see firefighters and realize they don't want to be stuck in an office when they grow up; they want to be a real-live superhero. The problem with this, however, is that things have changed and we need to evolve with those changes. Not only has the venue changed, but the mission has as well.
These are tough emotions to put aside, but put them aside we must. Building construction and fire loading is significantly different. There are more lawyers scrutinizing our every move. And of course, every year there are attempts to shut down the National Fire Academy or to minimize the USFA budget. The politicians are trying to squeeze every last penny out of our budgets so they can fund trips to Argentina or give the money to the banks. There are higher priorities than saving lives and protecting property, my brothers and sisters.
We have to fight the challenge of protecting our communities with intelligence, not with rhetoric. The way to defeat an enemy is not by engaging one on one, but by observing for opportunities and deciding when you have the best tactical advantage. Philosophically, that runs completely counter to our "mano y mano" psyche. When someone comes at a firefighter with a problem, we bow up our chests and say, bring it on. We can face down anything. Look at yourself, boys and girls, it is absolutely true. That is why we can continue to do more with less. It's like a perverse little game of "You can't beat us by cutting us." It's why we are so special. The problem is that this is a war of attrition; in asymmetrical warfare, you either need to change your rules of engagement or plan on getting picked off one by one.
We can't keep playing the game by rules that have changed. We must be smarter than they are, and the "they" in our case isn't just fire, but the forces that align to maintain life safety as an ongoing problem: lack of smoke detectors or fire sprinklers, substandard construction practices, lack of education and human nature, and always, the constant threat of staffing and budget cuts to support our mission.
If we are sincere that we want to protect our communities and serve our fellow man, the game has to be elevated. Hanging on to tradition is important from the aspect of honoring those who have sacrificed before us. But just as the military studies and discusses Napoleon, Clausewitz, and Sun Tzu, modern-day warfighting tactics are applied to those precepts to conquer enemies. We can continue to honor our predecessors' valor and heroism without engaging the enemy in the tactics of those days.
Take a moment and read through America Burning and the subsequent report, America Burning Revisited. Understand where we really must focus our efforts. And lets use the means at our disposal: scientific and technological advances, information sharing (especially through networking on the internet and through our local, state and National Fire Academies), and good old fashioned education. We are a modern fighting force and we should be embracing that, rather than running away from it.
In a little research prior to a possible paper on terrorism, I was looking at the history of terror in the United States. Technically, it goes all the way back to our beginnings, when "radicals" belonging to the Sons of Liberty tossed 45 tons of tea into the harbor. As you can quickly see in that one single case, "terrorism" is defined differently. I guess it just depends on whose point of view you happen to take.
I doubt anyone, however, equates terrorism as we know it today with an act of throwing goods into the harbor. Things have escalated considerably in 200+ years and now in 21st century Boston we have this reprehensible act of violence. We don't know the specific issue that sparked this act, but this defines "terror". Terror, in that these bombs were not just intended to get someone's attention about the unfairness of a point of view. No, this act included what were certainly anti-personnel devices, placed in a concentrated area of non-combatants, and positioned for maximum effect. This act was a cowardly act, striking at defenseless civilians in order to make some kind of a point.
I believe in peace and I believe in perspectives, but I'm afraid I'm not a pacifist. I personally believe we should seek who it is who chooses to harm the innocent and root them out. Suffice it to say, if someone were to hurt my loved ones, I would pursue them to the ends of the earth. While I earnestly strive to maintain peace and open-mindedness, and I profess an extraordinary amount of tolerance for other people's viewpoints, that all ends when you choose to escalate with force against me.
I struggle with my innermost being when I advocate for a return to civility and understanding, then see zealots deciding that whatever it is they stand for is more important than peaceful co-existence. I, like most Americans, stand for justice. We believe in equality. And we may have our own closed-minded radicals, but the majority of Americans abhor those extremes. When a certain group of individuals decides to plant a bomb among us, they have declared war against us and everything we stand for.
As I mentioned my research, I find that there is evidence of violent or extreme action being taken by almost every faction and belief. As I mentioned the actions taken in defense of independence, there are also many cases of "terrorism" documented for all kinds of causes. To the Left, before you talk about right-wing extremism, let's discuss the 1920 Wall Street bombing or the Black Panthers or the SLA. On the Right, don't leave the discussion without consideration of the white supremacy movement and of course, Oklahoma City and abortion clinic shootings. But I wanted to address a differently handled case of civil disobedience.
When I was learning to drive years ago, I practiced in the parking lot of the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, PA, so this event is very near to me. Those of you who are my age may remember that this is where the "Plowshares Eight" took non-violent action, broke into the facility, damaged missile nose cones, and poured blood onto documents and files. This is an act these days probably considered terrorism.
The big difference here, and something maybe people should understand, is that these individuals had a tremendous passion for what they considered to be a crime against humanity. But instead of bombing something or shooting at someone, they took action against inanimate objects. They made a point without hurting people, at least not physically.
For those who proclaim they are indeed "peaceful", this is a lesson in real peaceful protest. Likewise, there are many cases in history. Gandhi staged sit-down strikes. Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. Lech Walesa led the Solidarity movement. These were all effective means of protest without killing others. Strapping a bomb to your body and walking into a marketplace doesn't say "peaceful" religion to me. It says intolerance. It says the ends justify the means. It says that you aren't interested in living respectfully of one another.
Let's look at the Amish, for an example. The most traditional of their beliefs maintain community with a separation from secular society, yet they maintain a peaceful coexistence with others. If one participates at its most fundamental teachings, they have very strict rules but function (relatively) without interference from the rest of us. I would bet that there is a certain amount of frustration on certain aspects of the interface between their "world" and "ours", but while that may be so, I could be wrong, but I don't recall any outbreaks of terrorism on their behalf. They genuinely believe in peace and non-resistance.
I don't believe for a moment that Islam in and of itself is a violent religion. I read The Koran and I don't find it any more violent than The Bible. But I don't hold up The Bible and proclaim literal interpretation anymore than the parts of The Koran that extremists say defend their actions. I'm not a religious scholar, and I might even come across as slightly heretical, but I believe on a planet as small as this one, in order to survive, we have to learn to live together.
I don't feel like you have to agree with me, but I ask you to respect my beliefs, just as I may not agree with you, but I respect yours. As I said before, if you choose to ramp up your insistence that I listen to you at the point of a gun, I insist that I have the right to defend myself. And if you screw with me, don't expect that I'm going to take it lying down. If you choose to engage in warfare against me, you have to understand that your choice has consequences. In the United States of America, we proudly allow anyone to live within their beliefs and that we have the right to express ourselves in a manner of our choosing. If you want to live like a radical, then go somewhere where you can live like that and let the rest of us live our own lives. But while I choose to be respectful of your choices, and am happy to leave you alone, I will be civil with you. And yet, if you shove me, I WILL shove back.
If people really believe they belong to a peaceful gathering of individuals, then they need to be prepared to defend that with their actions. Failing to do that doesn't, in my opinion, buy you any credibility. Any religious institution that fails to push their extremists into the street and expose them when they preach annihilation of "non-believers" is, as far as I am concerned, culpable. That goes for any religion, any cult, any group. Silence is not an acceptable means of solving this problem. Exposing the intolerant and the extreme to the rest of the world is.
As Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." If you believe in peace, then let's see it. Put your money where your mouth is. If you are in an institution that advocates violence against non-combatants, then you have a responsibility to notify the authorities. And don't cry persecution when, avoiding that responsibility, we have to come looking in order to protect our way of life.
I look back at my years as a firefighter and paramedic and recall once being held at gunpoint by an irate patient. This was back in the early 80's and things were a little different then. While I feared for my life, it was more out of the belief that the gun she was brandishing could go off rather than the prospect of us being held hostage. She was upset at her husband and she was (looking back on it) more angry at him than frustrated with us. Fortunately, an alert dispatcher was on the other end of the radio and asked "10-61?" to which the only acceptable answer was "Affirmative". My officer at the time keyed up and said, "10-4, ma'am, everything is 10-4 here!"
Law enforcement was quick to arrive on scene and like I said, back then, hostage negotiation was more along the lines of one of the officers telling her to put the damn gun away before someone got hurt. She did, she went to jail, and we lived to tell about it.
I went forward from that night being a lot more aware of my situation. While later I became a commissioned law enforcement officer (for a while) and learned even more, after that night, at least, I paid more attention to not permitting anyone to get between my crew and the exit, watching people's faces and hands, and lighting up every space I was working in.
These days, incidents like those would have gone much differently. But these days, the evil is a lot more intense.
While I happen to be a gun owner and I believe in my Constitutional rights, I am concerned about how adding another gun to a situation is going to play out if I were permitted to start carrying a sidearm on duty. I don't honestly know if that's a good situation. And while I am a peace-loving and open-minded individual, I am also aware that I have been in positions where I felt threatened and yet was able to negotiate a less-than-violent outcome, whereas had I been armed at the time, the situation might not have ended up so well for the person I was dealing with.
Maybe this is an opportunity to look at a number of things, like the availability of body armor, or equipping personnel with less-lethal means of dealing with violence. I'm not saying I have the answer. But what I am saying is that until we can prove a scene otherwise, we need to approach with greater caution these days. Simply walking up to the front door, standing in front of it and knocking loudly is not what I consider good technique. Ignoring the presence of weapons in a room is not acceptable. And these are all things I have seen seasoned personnel do in my career, and when pointed out, got this "Are you kidding me?" look.
The point is that if you can PREVENT an incident from getting bad, you need to. Being observant, keeping a low profile, and taking in the surrounding clues can go a long way toward never letting things go south to begin with.
While this latest incident in Gwinnett County, GA will be dissected and we will learn lessons from it, I don't know how we could have ever prepared for a situation like that faced in West Webster, NY. But while those incidents are extraordinarily tragic, they happen less so than the violence to providers faced daily around the nation. And while these very newsworthy incidents illustrate very deranged individuals exist out there, they only scratch the surface of what we have to deal with every shift when we interact with people who are intoxicated, angry, high, delusional, or just have a chip on their shoulder. And these days, there are a lot of those people out there.
If you don't know how to protect yourself, seek assistance from your local law enforcement agency for tips on approaching subjects. Be careful going into places where you can't get out of and never let anyone get between you and the way out. And establish a procedure in case things do go bad and the individual can figure out that pushing that little red button isn't going to be good for them. Be proactive and hopefully, you never will have to deal with situations like these.
Nobody on this planet can ever accuse me of not having a heart and soul steeped in the tradition of the fire service. And an LODD is no laughing matter. But when the satire site The Onion lampoons a fictional firefighter who dies in the line of duty because he sucks at his job, is it really worth the collective ire that I'm sure will arise from it?
It's satire, and while you or I may find it distateful, it's not like the site says that firefighters themselves are idiots. If you choose to read the post, the story is that this fictional firefighter survived in spite of his complete incompetence, failing to wear turnout gear, etc., but the reality is, it is satire. The Onion has tackled virtually every celebrity and institution on record, including every known religion. So what makes the fire service off limits?
What isn't satire is a real LODD. And what isn't a laughing matter is the real issues behind a number of the causes of these incidents, which seem to me like an annual recitation of what we tell firefighters not to do, yet, they do anyway. What should be the routine fire becomes a nightmare because we neglect to use a means of accounting for our personnel. Or we fail to recognize the signs of imminent collapse. We lose firefighters because they fail to wear seatbelts, which after the number of appeals to correct, should long be a non-issue anymore, yet it still happens.
So while the fictional "Stuart D'Abarno" rushed into buildings without his PPE, nearly died during training drills, burned his hands on hot door knobs, backed into things with the apparatus, and set grease fires in the station kitchen, we have real-life people who do these things with and without consequence. And that is incompetence defined. And you know, if they die in the line of duty, instead of saying, "Wow, what a screw-up", we celebrate them as heroes.
We should instead focus our outrage on the real people who make the brotherhood look bad by their lack of professionalism on a regular basis. We should actually be glad that The Onion didn't decide to take on some even more embarrassing moments for the fire serivce, like firefighter arsonists, or fire chiefs taking from the till, or firefighters getting caught running a prostitute ring out of a station. I mean, really, isn't truth stranger than fiction?
Curt Varone wrote an excellent post on the Fire Law blog today on the concept of cyberbullying, this after a firefighter posted photos that could be construed as unflattering and might even go on to be considered hateful. He even presented this poignant question: “How do we, as members of the Internet community, draw our own lines about what is and is not fair game when it comes to humor, satire and parody?”
So, after reading the post, I replied about how much I enjoyed the article and how it seems, to me, to be an issue of maturity and self-control, which we will talk about in a second. After hitting the send button, I watched the extraordinarily funny video on the “People of Walmart” that he used as an example, and thinking it to be a good illustration of why I prefer not to shop at Walmart, I shared that video on my Facebook page.
I then sat and sipped on my triple espresso and began to write a sanctimonious post on how bullies were ruining the internet, blah, blah, blah…
The funny part about being introspective is that when you begin to practice it, you see yourself in a whole different light, and each time, you begin to see it more quickly (as in, before regretting it, sometimes). As I began to write and speak about how people are different and we needed to be a little more appreciative of differences in individuals, it occurred to me that by sharing the Walmart video, I wasn’t any better than anyone else. Not only that, I was a hypocrite, which is precisely the one thing I don’t ever want to be.
Curt asked this of us:
“Can we protect Jayden [the subject of the post] and still have our funny Walmart photos? Is there a line that can be drawn that makes one OK and the other not?”
In my comment to Curt, I stated: “I think that a lot of problems [in what could be considered cyberbullying] could be traced back to maturity and some personal self-control [sic].” Not a very well written sentence with the redundancy, but you get it, I hope. My point, however was that there have been plenty of times where an inappropriate comment or reply has crossed my mind, something that in context might have been funny, even between me and the subject, but then I thought better of it.
I believe, of course, that there is nothing wrong with sarcasm, cynicism, or even good ol’ fashioned sophomoric humor. But the bigger question has always been: Do I want this attributed to me?” Or do I want it to be seen by people who see me as being above that? Or is this how I want to represent Firehouse Zen? Or the greater emergency services culture?
I said in that comment that it “almost” seems to me to be the equivalent of handing a child a weapon. Given the outcomes of some of the more publicized events (suicide or retaliatory homicide), maybe that isn’t so far of a reach. The child doesn’t necessarily understand the power they are holding. They don’t have a grasp on the gravity of the situation. With the pull of a trigger, they can launch down an irrevocable path with unbelievable repercussions. The child may mean absolutely nothing in doing so. The action might even be the result of mishandling the weapon. But regardless of intention, it still does damage.
The pro-gun folks could have a field day with this discussion, but it is completely relevant: How do we regulate something with so much power to change lives, so that those who don’t understand or can’t appreciate the outcomes don’t end up with the ability to hurt others? Do we take it away? Do we restrict access? Or is this truly an adaptive issue we need to address not through a technical fix, but through a change in culture? I don't believe an across-the-board ban on internet speech is any more useful than an across-the-board ban on weapons. But the million dollar question is how do we manage to protect the vulnerable from those who mean them harm, regardless of the context?
I have no doubts that there are plenty of malicious individuals on the internet. I see them every day, cowering behind their keyboards, making references, creating innuendo, spouting about subjects of which they have no knowledge, and doing so without repercussion. There are comments I read that frankly, make me think to myself that I’d love to meet that individual and push their f***ing teeth in.
But while the internet is not for the weak of heart, it provides us the ability to share information that we couldn’t do before. With the “send” button firmly pushed, I can converse with people in foreign lands, people who I would never have met, or may not ever meet, just because of the issues of time and place. The thing I can see as being a precious tool that has changed my life can, honestly, also be used against me if someone so chooses, and with my being able to do nothing about it. So just as we don’t go walking into saloons with revolvers strapped to both hips without expecting a fight, there are places and people and conversations to avoid on the internet as not to cause yourself to be the focus of someone’s “weapon”. But honestly, I also don’t want to be a cyberbully either, so I must resolve to be what I say I am and not contribute to the distribution of the same material.
In reference to the Walmart video; it IS funny. It is accurate in that these people have gone into a Walmart and been photographed in public. And I concede that if you do these things, perhaps you open yourself up to a certain amount of criticism or ridicule. But on the other hand, I found it pretty tragic as well. Really, who knows if some of these people aren’t suffering from an emotional disturbance or simply are clueless about how they look or what it is they are doing. Like I have heard said, “They obviously don’t have friends or a mirror.” You know, really, we should be instead grateful that we aren't ourselves suffering the same fate.
One person may not be able to change the world overnight, but we can at least give it our best shot. Being human, I realize that I can’t control everything, but I can control myself and be a responsible individual and a good example for my family, friends and colleagues. And while I may laugh, I need to do so in a way that isn’t mean or hurtful to others, despite how viral the laughing might be.
Watch where you are pointing, because tomorrow, the pointing could very well be in your direction.
Our prayers need, right now, to be with our brothers at Bryan (TX) Fire Department in their loss of two valiant men, both of whom perished in the line of duty. We need to also support the two firefighters who were also part of the Rapid Intervention Team that went in and they too, were injured in this fire.
I am not well-versed in the operations of the Bryan Fire Department or their reputation. I can say that I have read some articles on their operation and have been impressed with what I saw; I have been to their website and they look like a progressive and forward-thinking organization. They do a lot of the same things my department does and are roughly the same size department as the one I work for. We run about the same number of calls, if my department were to have a "consistent" population (we have an "off-season" that causes a slight dip in response numbers). I would bet their people are a lot like the people I work with, and I'd bet their chief officers are a lot like me and my colleagues as well.
My department uses accountability and incident management practices that are considered to be the best in our business, and our culture is such that we use them daily, routinely, and intuitively, from the newest firefighter to the Chief of Department. We have modern equipment and we have high standards for our personnel. We are not "safety nazis"; we foster an aggressive approach to fighting fire and dealing with emergency situations, but there is a difference between "aggressive" and "arrogant". Safety is important, and we believe good situational awareness and good practices will keep us out of trouble, even when operating in harm's way. From what I can tell, the Bryan Fire Department is one of these types of departments as well.
We don't shoot from the hip at our department. For the most part, we try to take an unemotional approach to solving the problems we face on scenes. We get facts, we do the job, and we are proud to say that combined with our codes enforcement and fire prevention activities, we stop fires where we find them. When someone has a heart attack, between community involvement and everything else that makes up our team approach, we save them. We have more good days than bad ones, and that is always a force multiplier. I'd bet Bryan Fire Department is the same way.
As you can tell, I can identify with these guys and I have a lot of respect for their organization. They are, like a number of departments out there, just like the one I work for. But while I would like to think it can't happen here at my department, the difference between things going well and things going catastrophically, sometimes, is a crapshoot. You can do all the right things sometimes and it just takes one element to spin out of control, and tragedy ensues. I don't know all the facts about this situation, but I know this: we must try to give our people all the chances at success as possible in order for them to have any chance at all. No raindrop believes it is responsible for the flood, and you wouldn't think a tiny bird could bring down a jet airliner, but small things happen and result in big consequences. Everytime a brother goes down in the line of duty, it is imperative that we learn from it, so we don't have the same thing happen again.
If you really want to honor the brotherhood, you will walk away from all this with the idea that we must hone our art, we must pay attention to the details, and we must embrace changes that give us the opportunity to go home to our families at the end of the shift. While we have those among us who would climb into a dumpster fire to put it out, those of us with a respect for the conditions present at any emergency understand that we risk our lives to an extent just by responding to calls and there isn't a reason sometimes to increase that ratio of risk to reward. But when we do, we do so with a skeptical eye and we always remember we are sending our brothers in to do a job where they are already, often or not, outmatched.
God Bless our fallen brothers, Lt. Eric Wallace and Lt. Greg Pickard, be with Firefighters Mantey and Moran in their recovery, and especially watch over the Bryan Fire Department and their families during this time. Whatever you do, never say "it can't happen here". Learn the lessons from this and many other incidents, and resolve that while these situations might very well happen outside of our control, we at least won't go down without a fight.
I was reading the never-ending stream of discussion on Dave Statter's site about the AZ fire department refusing respond to a structure fire three miles away from their station because the home was in an area that was not paying for fire service. And we have had this discussion many times before, here on Firehouse Zen, a la South Fulton County and others. And I am constantly surprised at the discussions that go on regarding the "pay to spray" concept, since, by now, I would have thought most communities in our nation would have gotten a clue and done something about it, one way or another, or would stop acting so surprised when it happens again. And it keeps happening again. And again.
When I was a very young firefighter, I remember this very same kind of event occurring with a subscription fire department. I also remember being outraged that something Ike this could occur. Really, we are altruists, we firefighters, and we do this stuff not for the pay but for the love of our fellow man. Right? But, some thirty years later and more jaded and cynical, I wade into this conversation with a dose of reality for you. While it is great that we are all so willing to serve and to lay down our lives for others, there comes a serious discussion that is higher on the food chain than we happen to be. This discussion lies at the feet of those who make these policy decisions, at the jurisdictional level, and with those who claim the fire service is gutting their wallet for all they can get, then act stupid when we tell them all this stuff costs money.
This situation is heartbreaking and I can certainly empathize with the homeowner, my own family having lost everything we had to fire when I was young. But I also know from the perspective of a community activist: if a necessary service or facility is needed in my neighborhood, I work to fix it, or build it, or develop it. I don't sit around and wait for someone else to do it. If I were in a situation like this, I'd work with my local fire department to get them funding. I would help with fund raising. I would be a total pain in the ass to my elected officials and agitate to resolve the problem. But I wouldn't just stick my head in the sand and hope nothing happened.
Please don't take my tone as being disparaging to those of you who feel the urge to help regardless of whether the person pays or not. I certainly believe in selfless service to my neighbor. I am happy to be there in their time of need and regardless of their ability to pay. But I have a question for those of you who are getting emotional: "How many times does it have to happen before the elected officials in these communities get a clue and ensure that sustained funding is provided for fire protection?"
I feel stupid just repeating it, because the subject has been covered SO MANY TIMES; these trucks cost money. The fuel to send them costs money. The equipment on them costs money. The insurance costs money. The protective gear we wear costs money. The station we respond out of costs money. It's not even an issue of paying salaries and benefits; just the most elemental of operations at least requires the means to put out the fire and that requires funding. Do the citizens in these neighborhoods just assume the fire department will pay for these needs and they can get by without paying for the service?
You take a gamble when you decide to go uninsured, or in this case, live in a community who won't pay the bills. While I agree that there are likely some contributing factors, it is as simple as this: If I lived in a community and there wasn't police protection, I'd find out why. If the community leaders refused to help, I would do something about it. Or perhaps (which will make the pro-gun advocates jump with joy) I would arm to protect myself. But I wouldn't keep quiet and accept that I would be without help in the event I needed it.
The real tragedy is that over the history of our nation, when "real" leaders realized fire protection was substandard, or too far away, or wouldn't be available to them, they organized their own fire protection. In this day and age, one could even add sprinklers to one's home, you could be fire safe and maintain your home and property correctly, and if you absolutely had to, you could even provide your own fire apparatus (people still do this). But even if one can't afford to pay a subscription, there should be some alternative solutions, like a community grant to pay for those who haven't the means, or maybe even some work equity to pay the subscription off.
This leads into discussion on the situation in these communities in regard to "service". Volunteerism is a highly commendable and altruistic calling, not just in the fire service, but in many community services who lack the resources afforded to other projects. I volunteer as an advocate for those with Down syndrome; I volunteer to help the homeless and hungry; I served for years with a camp for children who have vision challenges; and I support a whole range of other causes. I would never withhold assistance to someone who needed help. In fact, that is why we are there, to help. But if the people who need the help can't fund the service, it is incumbent upon us, as leaders of these projects, to find out where to get those funds. I may seek corporate funding, or community funding, or tax funding, or pay for things out of my pocket. But the money has to come from somewhere, and if we were in the situation of helping someone who could afford help, I would certainly expect them to have some equity in the solution.
"Pay For Spray" is a pretty derogatory descriptor of the situation. I would bet that the firefighters in these communities are challenged between doing what is right to help their neighbors and the elected officials who chose to abandon their responsibility for ensuring public safety needs are adequate. This is not an enviable position to be in. But frankly, those of you who are so aggrieved by this situation should really consider moving to these areas and offering your services free of charge, putting diesel in using your credit card, and paying the light bill, because it sounds like they would love to have you pay for it all out of your pocket.
Instead of bashing the department's chief for having to make a tough decision, perhaps we should focus the blame squarely on those who created the problem: The taxpayers and politicians who knew they had coverage issues and elected to abandon their neighbors out of convenience. If you have a subscription service, as I said before, you'd better have an alternative plan in the event someone doesn't pay and you have to go into action. And if the answer from the town fathers is, "Too bad", that should be widely known in the community, in the media, and everyone involved, and there should be no shock when it actually occurs, because trust me, it will.
I didn't know the man, personally, or professionally, really. I own a few Apple products and I like them, I even love them. But while I recognize Steve Jobs as being an amazing individual, I hadn't really followed his career, or read any articles about him, or anything like that. But I recognize greatness when I see it and his impact on our world as we know it has been substantial.
When I listened to some of the testimonials about Steve Jobs this morning, I realize what a loss our generation has experienced, but not probably from the aspect you might think. This individual was truly visionary. He created from what was a dream, an empire. He was an inventor, a creator, a manager, a huckster, and summing it all up, a true leader. He applied his vision to create a reality. He used his vast array of abilities to translate vision into action.
What impact do you have on the world around you? You don't have to invent the next best thing to aspire to greatness. In fact, some of the simplest things you can do will break you out as an inspirational and amazing leader. By using your skills of motivating others, setting positive examples, working hard, demonstrating integrity, and caring for others, you can be a leader that others flock to.
Charisma goes a long way, but being true to yourself and leading from the heart will carry you the full distance. It takes real belief in self to achieve greatness. Do good things for others and be a person of vision and action. There is a big difference between "support" and "activism". If you believe in something, make it happen.
God bless you, Steve Jobs. You made a significant impact on our world throughout your life. We can only hope to achieve a fraction of that kind of effort, but in doing so, we can achieve excellence.
Today I was driving along, frustrated over some of the issues we face in society, wondering why some people just don't get "it". This story returned to me when I was meditating and I found it answered my questions. Instead of feeling contempt or anger for those who can't seem to understand an enlightened existence, perhaps we should feel compassion for them.
Ryokan was a Japanese Zen master who lived alone in a hut at the foot of a mountain. He lived in abject poverty and his hut was empty. The Master slept on the ground and spent his days meditating on a rock. One evening a thief crawled through the window of his hut, but discovered that there was absolutely nothing to steal.
Awakening, Ryokan startled the robber by greeting him and welcoming him into his home. When the thief wanted to leave, Ryokan said, "You have come so far to visit me and I would be dishonored if you left enpty-handed". Having no belongings, Ryokan gave the robber his own tattered robe.
The thief was completely at a loss for words, and he took the robe and crept away into the night. Later, when meditating on the situation under the full moon, the Master thought, "How unfortunate. The only thing I could offer that man was my tattered robe. I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon."
The story also has another meaning as well; that we should always consider that while things might be bad for us, perhaps there are others who are suffering worse. I said the other day that we should increase our capacity for compassion, and on the fire service front, I guess it could be much worse. You could be faced with a scenario like this one in Kenya.
When you are challenged with a problem, it always helps to maintain perspective.
In the last few days, we discussed the presentation by Dr. Stefan Svensson at FRI, who, after watching the presentation myself, made a case that the American Fire Service is taking a path that doesn’t consider facts. The reaction by many of my American fire service brethren are very obviously based on emotion, not logic. And frankly, for a group of people who pride themselves on being professional at their craft, maybe the firefighters in our nation do have a little to be desired when it comes to taking care of business in the manner in which it should be done.
Dr. Svensson pointed out in the very beginning that his observation of the situation is as from the perspective of an outsider. And while he has experience as a firefighter, he also has experience as an educator and a researcher. So instead of approaching his discussion from a hysterical standpoint, he used a historical standpoint: that facts are facts and frankly, the methods of changing our culture isn’t working. Sometimes some tough love is necessary, if we are sincere in wanting to bring everyone home in the morning.
Furthermore, at no point in his presentation (and I have listened to it and took copious notes) has he said that the Swedish fire service is better than any other fire service. In fact, he prefaces his presentation by saying that Sweden also has issues and they are not “better”. But while data can always be manipulated to say what you want it to say, try looking at this objectively:
What gain do we get from having an increase in firefighter fatalities? It’s not that we encourage firefighters to die, but the trend is there. Just based on the data Dr. Svensson shared, firefighter fatalities in America have been slightly reduced, but for the most part, have remained steady. Put that rate, however, in the context of decreasing civilian fatalities and decreasing fire responses, the ratio of firefighter fatalities per civilian fatality has INCREASED. Likewise, the ratio of firefighter fatalities per fire has also increased. Dr. Svensson even stated, this was AFTER pulling out the training and station deaths. The inference is that even with a reduction in call volume, we continue to see a steady stream of firefighter fatalities. And based on the language used by some of the commenters, the macho and egotistical feedback has been pretty predictable. Why do we take so much pride in our injury and mortality rates? Could it be that we are okay with it that way?
One issue I really found interesting was his discussion of cardiovascular fitness relative to the job. I have said on number of occasions that I am appalled by the continued reluctance of the fire service to embrace meaningful fitness standards. At the same time, these issues are relative to the general population: fitness is decreasing, obesity is increasing, and subsequently, cardiovascular issues are also increasing. In the meanwhile, the job of fighting fire has not changed, in fact, it has grown more challenging, and is compounded via station closures and staff reductions by having less personnel in many communities to now do the job that many were allocated to before.
Fitness requirements support a simple fact: we need to have an acceptable standard of fitness, therefore we need to have more comprehensive medical screening. The problem is, as Dr. Svensson observed, in the United States, we evaluate ability, not fitness. This is directly a result of equal opportunity mandates but has an undesired effect. In an effort to minimize discrimination, we have embraced ability testing to determine whether a person can do the job. We say, “If you can do the job, you should be allowed to” because we are trying to be more inclusive. But the tell-tale issue for whether or not a person is going to stroke out on us or have an MI isn't whether they can or can not pull a ceiling or drag a dummy, it is much more insidious than that. Cardiovascular issues that are killing firefighters aren’t readily apparent. And I know firefighters that can whip through an abilities test without too much going on, but it doesn't require a physician to take one look at them and say, this guy's a candidate for the Big One.
But honestly, I could go point for point about the presentation and I'm not. At least not with you all.
I intend to have my personnel listen to the presentation and view the PowerPoints included. I also intend to ask them to challenge themselves and ask, "Is he right? Is he wrong?" And I'm going to trust that my people are going to listen to what is going on and look past the harshness of the message and evaluate it like grown-ups. There is importance of having knowledge of the past in order to understand the present. And we have quite a few people who are okay with romanticizing the concept that it is our duty to die in the line of duty for no apparent reason. It is okay to be maimed for life for no apparent reason. It is okay to shovel a company into a burning building with deteriorating conditions because if we don't, we are pussies.
Well, it is okay only because the “leaders” in our business hype it as the standard as to what should be. Their mentality is okay for a future of knuckle-draggers, but what if we gave you a finite number of resources and told you that if you screw them up, you don’t get more, so you’d take better care of them? Or even better, if you are reckless with those resources, you have to pay for them? Well, how much longer do you think it is going to be before the lawyers realize that incident commanders sending their personnel into a situation with no control, no coordination, or no meaningful mission (other than "searching" an untenable building) are in fact, killing personnel, and liable for wrongful death restitution? It won't be long, because it is already happening.
The tradition of the fire service I had passed to me from my father, who got it from his father, and got it from his as well has been established that we must do whatever it takes to save lives. But there is a profound disconnect: Have we in fact created these expectations ourselves? Maybe this is where we ask the public: What is it you want from us? If you read any of the civilian comments in these communities where they are struggling with funds, there is a certain amount of "screw the firefighters" being said and not a whole hell of a lot of support. Perhaps we need to really educate the public and seriously ask them: "If you are expecting us to sacrifice our lives to get you out, there needs to be some relational support. Otherwise, f*&# off."
If we keep repeating traditions that don’t make sense and cause us unwarranted pain, what does that make us? Stupid? I think that's what Dr. Svensson said that some of you all are upset about. If you had a son who was pledging a fraternity, and the traditional hazing was to get painfully burned over a percentage of his body because hey, that's the tradition, I'd bet you'd tell him he's nuts. The only tradition I am buying into is that as a firefighter, I am willing to take a risk to save someone if I have the possibility of saving someone. But we aren't even doing that. We won't even buckle our seatbelts, and where is the tradition in that?
The most telling part of the presentation came in the discussion on survival training. While I don't necessarily agree with some of the issues, the real focus was this: Right now we focus on how to get out of problems. Maybe we need to be re-focusing on how to stay out of trouble to begin with.
They don’t think about safety because it is simply a part of what they do. It is not a thought, it is ingrained in their culture. It's not standing outside a house quivering because we are too scared to fight the fire. It is taking resources, defining the problem, and using the resources wisely and to the best effect to create a solution. We are letting our egos get in the way of facts. Instead of getting cranked up about what was said, listen to what he is saying. There are other approaches that make sense, yet we continue to ignore them.
I'm not even going to suggest that we should have a safer work environment. I'm just going to say that instead of pointing at the Swedish guy and being offended at what he said, perhaps we should listen, take what we can from the discussion, and learn. He used that language for a reason: to make a point. He isn't over in Sweden right now rubbing his hands gleefully because he has offended the Americans. He made it clear that as an outsider looking in, he sees a problem and wants us to be aware of it. However, he is also concerned that we are ignoring the issues based on our emotional reaction to the problem, rather than the rational explanation of how to solve it. I don't like being called stupid either, but as I have been told before, if the shoe fits, wear it.
I can't remember if I blogged this before, but if so, it bears repeating. When my brother and I were very young, my father, who was also a fire chief, brought home from work some pencils with the phrase, "Do it right the first time" inscribed on them. This message was brought up by my father many times throughout my life, although I'll admit, there are days even today when something goes wrong and I think back to that message.
It may take extra time that you don't think you have. That time may seem very valuable. The shortcut you take may seem like it saves those precious seconds. But I have seen in my life, many times when those shortcuts have proven catastrophic, and in most of those situations, I look at them and wonder, had someone taken a few extra moments to do it right, what the outcome might have been.
While the historical issue between response to rescues in New York City is frustrating and sad, since it seems to me to be the confluence of a power struggle and turf battle, instead of celebrating a terrific save the other day, instead we have this tragedy to contend with, as shared with us by Dave Statter on his blog.
I have always learned and always taught that when lifting, we "crib to the lift". And while the spreaders are not the desired lifting tool, I have used them before and they have worked just fine. I preface that, however by explaining that I am also passionate about physics and when I have used spreaders, I also understood that the force applied must go somewhere, and if the load isn't stabilized, the force is going to create motion we don't want. In this case, the force displaced the object alright: lateral to the support (the spreader) and with nothing to support the load (cribbing) the load went to ground (and victim).
I don't care if you are FDNY, ESU, or anyone else. I have seen this very same shortcut taken before in departments that have had identically catastrophic results. I also recall other times when the load has shifted on the column, in one case, three stacked air bags. In this case, the firefighter, who happened to also be the salesman of the lift bags and should have a little expertise in their use, himself was killed.
There's a lesson to be learned in every tragedy. Aside from the physical principles that apply to all of us here on this planet, there's another very important one. Driving recklessly, failing to wear your seatbelt, not wearing proper PPE, not paying attention to overhead power lines, and in this case, not providing an alternate column to support the load via cribbing, all might seem like they are saving precious seconds, but failing to do the right thing the first time, ended instead in tragedy.
Take a moment to ditch the emotion and be the professionals you are. Do the right thing the first time.
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.
The facts are not in yet from Asheville, yet I can say this with certainty. A man, just like any of us, woke up the other morning and got ready to go to work. He probably went through his morning routine like we all do, kissed the wife and kids, drove to work, and reported in. He likely threw his gear on the rig and checked out his equipment, without a thought that in a few hours he would be gone.
As the Bible says, we do not know the day nor the hour. We need to prepare as if every day were the day. But our choice to serve isn't for the money or the fame or the worship as heroes. We know these things aren't the reason we do the job. And as Chief Croker said, the greatest act of heroism is when we don that badge; after that, it is what we are expected to do. Hopefully we are never called to sacrifice our lives in the line of duty, but God fobid, if that event occurs, we should make that sacrifice only to save another.
Continue to reach out to these folks and to the families and friends of our other departed brethren and keep them in your prayers.
As a follow up to some issues I discussed on my last post, I submit to you this case study: I have never called our Dispatch to have anyone sent to a false alarm. Years ago, however, I was prompted about the crew on one of our medic units at another station complaining all day about being the next on rotation for any out-of-town transports. When I called the station to ask a question on another matter, the officer asked me to call back and inform the medic crew that one of these transports were getting ready to go. Ultimately, when the prank was revealed, everyone had a good laugh.
A few shifts later, we did end up with one of these transports and the same crew was back on rotation. I called the station to let the crew know what was going on. I hung up from that and went back to my computer. After a few minutes, I still hadn't heard the medic unit check in on the radio. When I called the station to find out what was going on, I'll bet you know what the answer was. That day I learned a lesson the hard way. The lesson: Don't give someone an order and then, when something unusual comes up, expect your orders to be followed without question.
Individuals who become supervisors, and subsequently leaders, must understand that when they play pranks like that, the result is that people don't see you as credible. I do have examples of officers who have been able to be pranksters and be credible, but they are VERY far and few between. In retrospect, a friend and colleague who I consider one of the best officers I have ever worked with was one of those. But my observation is that he had the ability to pull off pranks that didn't require his active involvement. And while never calling attention to his ability to pull a fast one, he wasn't the class clown either.
Conversely, there are those who when they pull off the joke, they have to be in the middle of it. This obviously detracts from their respectability. They are not seen as credible. The crew just sees them as an extension of themselves, with some added paperwork responsibilities. When it comes to playtime, these characters are right there in the mix, setting someone up for a "bunny tail", throwing someone else's car keys into a bowl of water bound for the freezer, or throwing a bucket of cold water over top of the shower door on some unsuspecting boot. And what's even worse is that when the officer engages in this behavior, it also means that to be a good sport, you must be okay with being the mark in some of the practical jokes. Otherwise, the argument is that you can dish it out, but can't take it, and depending on how you react, you may very well end up looking foolish, which certainly isn't going to do anything for your respect.
There are ways to not be a prankster and not be seen as a tight-ass either. We have a long standing "tradition" of wetting individuals with ice cold buckets of water when they get promoted. The day I got the official letter, I overheard some of the crew debating the wisdom of wetting me, since I don't engage in that nonsense. But when all the work was done that day, I finished up a report, walked out into the kitchen and said, "Okay, if you're going to do this, let's do it and get it over with."
Each of the other six guys at Station 6 that day got a shot at pouring ice water on a newly minted chief officer (see the picture). I'll admit it was cold and that it took my breath away. But I sat there and when they exhausted their last bucket and they were all standing around, I shook the ice off my shirt and stood up. I then asked, "You guys done?" They all acknowledged that they were, I simply said "Thank You", went inside to my rack and changed into a dry uniform. Then I went back to my office to finish up my evening reports with a smile and a business as usual attitude.
Likewise, if you have that kind of attitude and someone does take a chance to pull one over on you, the best bet is to maintain a sense of humor about it, but remind the entire crew that it isn't smart to prank the chief. I've said something like, "Are you sure turning the heater on high in the chief's car is a good career move?", which gets some light laughter, but everyone gets the point. Later you can take the individual aside and actually use it to discuss this very same lesson here with them, so that perhaps they learn from it for when they become an officer.
When you are a leader, it requires you to not take yourself too seriously. But if you are busy dreaming up new practical jokes rather than dreaming up new training scenarios, the likelihood that you will be given the respect you desire as an officer is going to be slim. Officers who engage in practical joking with their subordinates are only asking for reciprocation; the biggest downside is that reaction may come at the time you least want it to. Best to leave the funny stuff to the kids and stick to being the responsible adult.
Let me begin by saying, I am the number one fan of Animal House. I would never do anything to disparage the film or any of its characters. And I am not being Dean Wormer here. But it's time to put that little part of our lives behind us for a moment, although it is a part of me I can never quite leave behind. So here's a little test.
Consider the events in Holyoke, MA over the past week or so. If the action you are about to take would cause undue embarrassment to you or your organization, or your family and loved ones, would you still do it? If your action was the cause of something that makes the front page, or the national news, and it's not something you are proud of, would you do it? If the action you are about to take would invoke criminal or civil penalties against you, would you still do it?
What happened here was a very innocent practical joke on the part of an interim chief. I feel badly for him and I really don't believe this chief to be an idiot (as some have stated) or a criminal (as others have), or even a bad guy. I don't even know the man. But what he did, especially in the anti-public servant climate within which we are currently suffering, was not exercising good judgment.
There is nothing about this incident that suggests that anything happened here other than an attempt at a little levity, albeit at the expense of violating the laws about calling in false alarms. Am I judging the man or his actions? No. I don't know all the facts, although they seem pretty apparent on their face. Do I understand the mentality? Yes. I have moved a fire engine parked at the supermarket to the other side of the parking lot along with a few other practical jokes. But the next blog post will be all about THAT angle regarding leadership, so stay tuned. I don't believe anything other than that this was a practical joke gone wrong.
But in light of this incident, maybe instead of testing someone's physical fitness, their aptitude for reading a sentence, or the many other things we should be testing and aren't, maybe we should put at the top of the priority list, a test for maturity. Because other than the only test that seems to be important in some departments these days – that would be the ability to fog a mirror – we insist on knowing all these important things about how much someone can lift, or how fast they can run stairs, or how fast can they calculate 2+2 and we miss out on what seems to be the heart of our industry's problem. If you haven't picked up on it, that would be a test for whether or not the individual we are about to hire or promote is capable of objectively separating their inner teenager from the responsibilities of adulthood.
Again, lest you think this is all about pranksterism, there are actually many examples of where a certain level of maturity is important, and why it's not a good idea to have people associate with us that think it is okay to video someone lighting fireworks out of your ass. The public perception these days is swinging toward the "bunch of overgrown kids pretending to be important" side and away from the "upstanding citizen who is here to keep us safe" side. While some of our colleagues might not see that as being important, the public, when choosing to spend their hard earned dollars, are really not interested in sending money in the direction of waste and frivolous behavior. They want to be reassured that the individuals to whom they are entrusting their tax dollars are responsible, thoughtful, and perceptive. People who are making the news wire for setting fires, calling in prank false alarms, stealing from treasuries, and any other number of violations of society, are NOT considered as being responsible, thoughtful or perceptive. In fact, if this is news to you, haven't you probably ALSO been the ones complaining because the public doesn't love you anymore? Acting like you are still a member of Delta Tau Chi is not okay when you pin bugles on your collar (and I am the number one Animal House fan, remember?) Sophomoric behavior is best left to sophomores.
There are a number of us who are frustrated with the eroding public trust that comes about when certain participants in our field act like a bunch of day care refugees. The failure for some to consider the ripple effect their actions have on others is incredible. We are in a real struggle to define the fire and emergency services. There are daily reports of communities downsizing departments, "renting" them out (that would be privatizing them), or simply reallocating funds that would have been spent on fire and emergency services to other competing interests. We are at war here for our very existence, and every negative report is used against us, implicitly or not, to give rationale as to why we (fire and emergency services) shouldn't get the support we need.
There is no need to comment that I'm sucking the fun out of the job. Right now, we need to be working harder than ever to save our standing in the community, be it as a career or volunteer professional. We definitely don't need our own people shooting our efforts in the feet. Fun is when we can come out of a good worker safely, with a smile on our face because we did a good job; or high-fiving in the nurse's lounge because we just pulled an asystolic patient out of their nose-dive and they are sitting up talking in Bed 2. Fun is when we are on the training ground joking around with each other while resting after a particularly challenging evolution.
Grow up. Fun doesn't come unless you earn it. It's not fun being a loser. You can have fun all day long, but in the end, if you haven't accomplished anything, you're just one more clown among many. When you are truly professional, you can work hard and have fun at it too.
I can't imagine that there are much louder events than the crashing noise a meteor makes when it is hitting a planetary object. To look at a crater made by a meteoric impact leads me to assume it is a horrible train wreck of an event. So when the high and mighty go to ground, the noise seems to be equally stunning, especially if you believe in the individual beforehand.
People love to hate hypocrites. When a person or a group allows their reputation to be portrayed as one of honor and good, and then that trust is betrayed, then their actions can be seen as patently hypocritical. Those are the people who do things like run on a platform of family values, only to be shacking up in South America on taxpayer funds. Or doggedly pursuing impeachment of a President for being adulterous while engaging in their own adulterous affair. Or the religious who rail about the wrongs of homosexuality, only to be having a few of those relationships on their own. One of my least favorite college football coaches, who has led under the premise of being forthright and wholesome after his claims that he knew nothing; Well, maybe he knew a little more than nothing. And of course, there is this Weiner saga that continues to keep playing.
Since the firefighter is held to be an example of virtue, bravery, and service in the name of the community good, when one of us fails, we can expect it to get serious play. And in this day and age where so many people are looking for heroes, when we get it wrong, we get it wrong in a big way. The backlash continues to flow as it seems like from one day to the next, one or more of our own pulls a new rabbit out of the hat and ends up with their mug shot splashed across the front page.
I also like to read the comments in the stories as Statter and Firegeezer where a number of our brethren sanctimoniously proclaim the fallen as garbage and a disgrace to the uniform. But really, here's where it really gets ugly. Check out the comments on this article from the Las Vegas Sun. You can also check out the whole story there as well, but one look at the comments and you can see that the idea of the public singing our praises as "heroes" has been replaced by angry, bitter tirades against what we do not only while not running alarms, but even while providing our service. And I don't even know what it is that these guys may or may not have done to draw this kind of fire. I don't know that they did anything wrong or they have just found themselves poorly positioned in the center of a taxpayer backlash against spending.
Just yesterday, my own organization happened to be fighting a decent sized brush fire in a residential area. With all of the coverage of the devastation in the Arizona wildfires you'd think citizens would be praising a fast, aggressive response; instead, at least one TV news report (not the one cited) pointed out the "inconvenience" of residents not being allowed to their homes until the fire was declared under control, and I corresponded and talked with a few people with very similar complaints. Fortunately, all of my interactions were positive and once explained, the individuals were at least a little more grateful. But what we have always taken for granted (that the citizens see us as positive, upstanding members of the community), has been replaced in many jurisdictions as our being selfish, lazy, and out-of-control.
There's enough ugly to go around right now without our own people bringing it down upon us. It is up to each and every one of us to weed out those who continue to give emergency service a bad name with their negative attitudes, their arrogant behavior, and their me-first mentalities. The good name and the "hero" portrait of emergency service, like it or not, came about because we put it on the line for our neighbors, we genuinely cared about our community and serving others, and because we were always seen as hard-working, blue collar people. When a firefighter said something, they shot straight, but it was said with concern and compassion. We have always been about getting the job done, no matter what, no matter how dirty or dangerous, but without bitching or complaining or pointing out each others' faults. This is not how we work today.
Let the politicians, TV preachers, Wall Street CEOs and the other scumbags be the hypocrites and punching bags. Each of us should be serving as a positive example of how to do this job, volunteer or career, and without acting like a bunch or amateurs and whackers. Man up (that includes our sister firefighters as well) and do the job, and while you need to educate the public in what we do and how they interact with us to provide a team approach, don't call attention to yourself for doing it. Just do the right thing and we'll all be fine.
I have probably spoken before of complacency. Complacency is a subject that seems to surface repeatedly in our business, a business that requires constant vigilance. It strikes all of us at one point or another. The cure, sadly enough, seems to be getting stung. And in a further moment of unfortunate circumstance, on occasion the sting is accompanied by death, severe injury, or catastrophic loss.
And since we all understand that complacency in the fire service is a topic on which everyone is reminded to guard against, it happens routinely, and to the most unlikely of subjects. I myself have been shaken out of complacency, years ago, with a near miss, and vowed to never repeat it. But time after time, like water wearing away at a stone, repeated non-events lull us into the belief that the next one will just be one more in a long line of non-events. When the long shot pays off, it can be a doozy.
Just as we get complacent on alarms, the public sector fire service has become fat and happy in the belief that no one would dare upset our world by privatizing it, merging it, or re-sourcing it. We are firefighters! Everyone loves firefighters! No one would dare go against us. We are heroes, after all. Well, just read this article on FireRescue1.com. These issues, although we have been saying they were coming for years, are now upon us. If you don't believe it, look around. The public is sick of hearing about firefighters milking their pensions, taking questionable disability benefits, stealing from their organizations, and lighting fires. We are no longer pristine. We have permitted the scum bags to infiltrate our ranks. We are fair game.
Times are tough. People see us as having while they don't. If there is anything more energizing to the haters, it is the thought of "heroes" becoming the "anti-heroes". It is the foundation of expose and justice denied that calls for every Geraldo wannabe to man a video camera and find the next Watergate saga. If there is something delicious about failure, it is much more tasty when the shock of failure is accompanied by the role a trusted individual has in creating it.
Change is near on the horizon and while there are those of us shouting it from the rafters, it seems like there are many who continue to ignore the warnings. What you believe to be true today may very well be heresy tomorrow. If you fail to evolve, to get your stakeholders involved in your mission, or to understand the changing tide of support, you may well be clinging to the remains of what used to be while the rest go sailing down the road.
Just as we preach to our new firefighters that complacency kills, so should the vested leadership of our collective organizations be warned: complacency will be the demise of what you currently hold dear. You can appreciate change and master it, or let it master you. One way or another, it is on the way.
Since I was the lifer truckie captain and one of only three in the department who had even sat behind the wheel of a TDA before (I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I got the job), I got to shop, spec, purchase, equip, and train the company in our new concept. We brought in an expert who was likewise, a lifer truckie, and learned to drive the TDA the old fashioned way (drive it around the parking lot for a while).
My observation was such that, as an educator, there was probably a more effective method of developing drivers for this specialized piece of machinery. When we were doing research on writing a course on driving tillers, I found a shocking lack of information (at that time) on them and ultimately, a few colleagues and I developed the coursework from which we certify our personnel to drive. This, to satisfy the naysayers, also involved INTENSIVE driving of the vehicle: beachfront parking lots during summer, night driving, driving in the rain, and lots and lots of situational stuff. Needless to say, when we were done, that first round of drivers was pretty proficient.
Lately we have been finding that there is a desire for some to want to reduce the requirements for TDA chauffeurs and tiller operators and I expressed my opinion that this was not the way to go. Our organization does all kinds of stuff in our community in conjunction with our customer service outlook, as well as respond on emergencies. Time is very valuable, but I also know of a long and distinguished history of TDA mishaps that each time point to a missed element of discipline and training. There are basic laws of physics that really come into play with a tractor-drawn aerial that don’t in your basic straight frame aerial, and I have been less than tolerant of relief drivers who don’t understand that.
So you can imagine my interest when I found out about this video collaboration between the Raleigh and Seattle Fire Departments as can be seen here:Raleigh and Seattle Collaborative Training Video I have been watching to see what lessons we might get out of the Raleigh TDA rollover and it seems as if we will have a very valuable tool for educating not only TDA drivers, but all firefighters as well.
But while this could evolve into an entire lesson on driving tillered apparatus, the discussion I want to actually have is that there is a wealth of information out there that you all have the opportunity to obtain. We find too often that people are unwilling to accept the observations and experiences of others and instead “reinvent the wheel” regularly, wasting time and money in the process. But these two departments saw needs and worked together to produce a valuable teaching tool.
There is no shame in finding out what mistakes (or positively, what efforts) have been previously made in our business and asking questions about he good, the bad, and the ugly. This is called research. We ask questions to determine an answer to a problem and rely on science and experience to make decisions. The problem is, it requires effort and it requires being candid about the issues. But no progress gets made without learning about what went right and what went wrong.
Check out the video and tell me what you think. I have already viewed it a number of times and take away something new each time. We are fortunate (and thankful) that no one was killed in this event. And it goes without saying, I thank both departments for their sincere effort in making the job safer. But the lessons learned are no good to anyone if we keep them locked up in a closet. Share the knowledge, collaborate, and learn from one another.
Note: I meant to add this link as well and failed to do it: The Fire Engineering article that spurred my interest. I like to give credit where credit is due.