Yes, the holiday season is now upon us, with lots of gifting and shopping and egg nog and stuff like that. We have Black Friday waffle iron riots, we have camping on sidewalks to get the best deals at Best Buy, and we have court fights over the presence of various religious displays. It is what I call the "Lost Season", when everyone has scheduled holiday and vacation leave and nobody ever seems to be in their office, in anyplace, anywhere.
In a true interpretation of the season, however, and in keeping with the observation that most of the world's religions have more in common than they have that separate them, we have to remember the real meaning of the season and that reason is to promote peace on earth and goodwill to mankind. That we should be celebrating our family and our friends and we should be reminding those individuals how much they mean to us.
This season, however, we should be reaching out to those less fortunate than we are in a spirit of brotherhood, especially when we call the fire service a brotherhood, and especially when times are hard everywhere. There are many ways to do this and each of you should find your own way to express this shared bond. I am positive there are departments we all know of that can use a helping hand right now. Not every community is as blessed as some of us, not just with equipment or apparatus, but in the wealth of knowledge some of you can bring to teach others about how to do the job a little more efficiently and a little safer.
I have been informally discussing ways to help our brother and sister firefighters in places like Nepal, where disaster could strike at any moment and the infrastructure is so poor that it would only magnify the devastation. A brother firefighter from Belgium has actually been over there and along with others, have been instrumental in bringing updated equipment and apparatus to these folks. Ironically, we are talking about '70's and '80's era equipment as being "updated". Some of the apparatus is older than I am. This cause is using a power of social media to promote interest, at this site called Fire AID.
There is no doubt, especially with the destruction Sandy brought a few weeks ago, that we have departments in our midst that could use help. I strongly encourage you all to find ways to do this. But on a grander scale, the things we can't use anymore here in our own country because of technology changes, regulatory compliance, or any other number of reasons, would be an amazing gift to departments in Central and South America, Asia, and Africa, among many other places.
So all of you who believe in the spirit of the fire service and that we are all truly "brothers" need to think of ways to help others. This is the perfect time to start working in that direction. It can be done through any number of means, and even the lowest rookie among us has the potential to do amazing things for others. I said it on Thanksgiving: if you have a roof over your head, electricity for powering your computer, or a warm place to read this from, you are doing better than a large number of the world's population. Express your gratitude for being given the opportunities and resources to do this job by sharing them with people who are just like you, but not quite as lucky.
This Independence Day, let's remember our brother firefighters who every day put it on the line for this Nation. God Bless each of you and keep you safe. KTF-FTM-PTB
The brotherhood of fire and rescue is but a microcosm of the greater part of society. In turn, a visit to any un-moderated site will reveal that the general public isn’t any better about being civil, so we probably shouldn’t put a whole lot of worry into the declining civility among people who profess to be part of a brotherhood. It’s just become a norm of our victim society that it’s okay to be self-righteous and it’s okay to go after anyone who doesn’t think like us.
You would think a group of people who profess brotherhood as a redeeming value would be a little slower to throw one of their brothers under the bus when something goes wrong, but as I mentioned in the Tuscon post, that is obviously not the case. In the event that an individual within our ranks does something completely against the grain of our collective morals, like set fires or engage in child pornography, I am entirely understanding about the emotion involved in that rage. It is proportionate to the offense. But since I’m sure you all have heard of cases where the other side of the story ends up being a compelling explanation, we need to take care and exercise caution about expressing our condemnation, because, as we command officers tend to say, the truth actually lies somewhere between Points A and B.
I’m not a hypocrite by any means; I am right there with you. I just happen to also take a little bit of time to rein in my passions a little. If you were standing next to me at the moment I got the news of a “firefighter declining to respond to an incident”, I’m sure you’d have seen another side of me. However, the luxury of the internet is not only real-time event coverage, but the ability to pause before re-communicating your opinion, especially since unless you were there, it is your opinion and based on conjecture, not on tangible evidence. You might not be able to take back what you just blurted out of your mouth, but you can certainly check yourself before clicking the radio button. Very few of the stories I hear are actual prima facie cases. Since these stories unfold so quickly, we often find that there is more to the story that doesn’t get revealed due to the emotions choking the lines of communication.
It brings up the topic of this page, however, since some of the e-mail (I typed in “e-mal” in my draft – was that a slip?) doesn’t seem to agree with me and of course, there are those who can hide behind their pseudonyms in the comments. While I am sure the act of someone failing to go to an emergency challenged our beliefs in what was good and right about our profession, on lesser occasions, the anger and vitriol for say, someone not wearing their gloves in a picture, is a little over the top. And I say “a little” in my most sarcastic tone of voice. Some of the comments from the peanut gallery are also those who, given their profiles, probably haven’t seen too many incidents more challenging than a dumpster fire, and even then, they weren’t even in charge of that.
Individuals these days, in this moment of instantness (you like that?), are quick to react instead of reflect. They simply don’t have the patience for the whole story. They want their news, their blogs, their everything instantly and then they act on that information accordingly. In a time-compressed environment, there is only a moment to digest what we have heard and then to regurgitate it so that we can be the first to make a comment. The first to comment must be the best informed, right? The self-appointed subject matter expert? The one on the inside, right?
For me, I see it in the type of readership I get here at FHZ. The comments are usually thoughtful and agreeable. I post every comment, pro or con, so long as it isn’t spam. And although I may not agree with you, I consider your perspective on the issues as valuable and enlightening. But I get the impression that the few individuals who have seen fit to be trolls (with one notable exception) haven’t read farther than the first paragraph anyway. Anything over 140 characters for a lot of these individuals is a lot of wasted time reading.
We don’t do controversy here on this blog. We are interested in a bigger picture. If it is an event that is truly worth discussing and there are alternate points of view, we engage in another time-wasting effort: dialogue. We ask questions. We pose thoughts. We engage in critical examination. We remain open-minded. It’s a little too much for some people, I am aware, but it keeps the riff-raff out.
The readers of this blog generally have proven to be those who I could sit down and have a beer with and talk about something other than the fire service, or have a conversation about the fire service in say, the context of a retail business, or a day care, or the University of Life. They can see things for more than what is printed on the face. They possess deeply considered ideas or are able to see that there are advantages to listening to the opposition. The readers of this blog are those who I consider to be the hope for emergency services to evolve out of the tar pit of whackerdom and rise to the level of professionalism.
If you know of someone who operates on a different playing field than the norm, send them here and ask them to say their piece so we know they are here. But most importantly, we are looking for readers (and commenters) who have ideas to share and innovative ways of looking at things. Just because the issue appears to be obvious, it isn’t often the case. We want to talk with REAL leaders, those of you who consider enlightened leadership to be a desired trait, not a hurdle to our position. We need engagement, not brick walls. Haters and groupthinkers need not apply.
As is pretty often the case, as I was running around dropping my children off at school, I was listening to the Bob Edwards Show on XM Public Radio. I find his interviews often provide me some inspiring moment that I quickly jot down to work off of and direct me toward a concept applicable to what we are doing here in FHZ.
This morning Bob was doing an interview with Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has made it a mission to work with young men who are in trouble in Los Angeles, particularly those involved in gangs. Without going through the whole interview, which was excellent as it was, there was one moment where Father Greg discusses his efforts through Homeboy Industries to get kids off the streets and into a situation where they can learn a trade and get away from the gang lifestyle. The story he told was of one youth (I think his nickname was “Clever”) who got into the program, and as was the case in some situations, actually meeting up with ex-rival gang members in the job and he was shaking hands and realizing he needed to get along. However, there was one other guy there, “Trabiando”, who it was obvious that Clever had a deep-seated issue with; not only would he not shake hands with him, he wouldn’t speak to him or even look at him.
Father Greg related that he informed the two of them that if they couldn’t get along, there were plenty of others who wanted into the program, and they both admitted they wanted to work, so they remained enrolled.
A while later, Trabiando was jumped and unmercifully beaten by some gangsters near his home. Long story short, Trabiando was put on life support for a period until he could be declared legally dead; in that period, Clever called up Father Greg and apparently, offered whatever help, donating blood, etc. that could be done. Father Greg continued talking to Clever for a while, and Clever became choked up and said the reason he wanted to help, because, “He was my friend”.
What we need in our lives is more reaching out to others with divergent ideas and understanding of their perspective. Father Greg said in the interview, “It’s hard to demonize someone when you know them”. By that he means, the better we get to know our adversaries, the more equipped we are to see their point of view and the less likely we are to treat them with contempt.
Given the visceral feelings that many of these gang members have for their rivals, the fact that someone like Father Greg has been able to bring them to the table to talk with one another is nothing short of miraculous. Since we in emergency services actually profess to be brothers, you’d think we could get past all the name calling and finger pointing for a while and team up to bring about needed change.
Why we can’t get a better understanding of volunteer vs. career, urban vs. rural, fire vs. EMS, and any other dividing line, I don’t know. But instead of talking about what color helmets we wear and how many lights we have on our POVs, maybe we should be taking on issues like recruitment of good people, understanding why some communities require career personnel and some must do with volunteers, understanding that some of us choose to be career and some find that they can volunteer in their communities, and some can actually do both, and any number of subjects.
We have so many meaningful issues to solve that if we did, would bring our industry ahead by light years. We have many brilliant minds in our midst that if they were to put away some of the rhetoric and listen instead, we could find ways to achieve our overarching mission. There really does come a time when we must all put away our jealousies, our misperceptions, and our biases, and reach out to overcome our biggest challenges.
Resolve as an emergency service leader to make serious change in our industry. Network and share ideas. Provide positive feedback about something you DO agree with to someone you know is on the “other side” of whatever issue you are passionate about to show them you do have something in common and at least put the commonalities out there as a bridge for dialogue.
There are plenty off issues I am passionate about, but choose to put them aside for a moment and talk about issues that bind us. If we can solve these challenges we can agree on, maybe, just maybe, we can tackle the other issues after we have had some successes and understand we are all on the same team; not just as emergency service providers, but as human beings. Make the effort to show that you care about where we go, and be the change agent where you are today.